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Saturday, June 8, 2024

All Dogs Go

It was clear to us that our little dog Skipper was not right. He hadn't been eating or drinking much. He would come into a room and look around like he couldn't remember why he was there. He was very old by dog standards - we had had him for 13 years, but we were the fourth owners, inheriting him from my wife's dad when he passed away years ago. We figured he was at least 17 years old, maybe 18, which for a dog is ancient (vets consider dogs "senior" when they are seven years old). We had been chalking it up to age and senility, but a week ago Friday, he was having trouble walking more than 5-6 feet without lying down. Morkies don't really cry when they are in pain, but it was clear to us then that it was high time to take him to the vet.

The story wasn't good. They did a blood panel on him, and it showed that his kidneys were just short of shutting down entirely, and he was probably suffering from cancer as well. He didn't have long to live, even if we took extreme and expensive measures. He was suffering and would continue to suffer. We made the decision that many, many loving pet families have to make... to let him go and put an end to his pain.

We actually made an appointment and took him home for a couple of hours - my son was at work but he got the afternoon off so he could be with us. It was like having a little bit of doggie hospice time; it gave us a chance to love him for a little bit longer and say our goodbyes. We took him back at the scheduled time, me and my wife and our two kids and my wife's brother, who was the one who originally got Skipper for my wife's dad years before. They gave us the option to just say goodbye and go, but none of us were going to leave him there to cross the rainbow bridge alone. Even so, watching our best friend breathe his last breath was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. We're so thankful that he's no longer suffering, but we miss him terribly, and there will always be an empty morkie-shaped place in all of our hearts.

Decades ago, I heard a mom describing taking her kids to the movie theater to watch an animated movie I still to this day haven't seen, All Dogs Go to Heaven. I was never clear on what exactly in the movie upset her, or why she would even take her kids to see a movie by that title if she was going to be theologically offended, but apparently she stood up at the end and proclaimed to the theater that dogs don't go to Heaven but people do. Not sure whether her kids were impressed by this or mortally embarrassed. But was she right? Do dogs NOT go to Heaven? To humans live on in eternity while their pets live for a decade and then no longer exist? Are the atheists right about death being the final end... but only for Fido?

There are certain things the Bible doesn't say much about. This is for the simple reason that the Bible is a book, and a book is about something, and the Bible is primarily a book about God reaching out in love to the human race. It's not about chemistry, so there's not much in there about that. It's not really about geography or astrophysics. It's not really a music textbook, although there's a lot about music because that's a good way for humans to approach God. And it's not really particularly about animals, especially pets - although because of the time period when it was written, there's a lot about farming. There's even more about shepherding because God repeatedly uses that metaphor to describe how He approaches his people. So it doesn't really tell us whether animals have spirits that live on after death. But there are some interesting passages about animals.

In 2 Samuel 12:1-6 there is a story which turns out to be a metaphor to convince King David that he was guilty of wrongdoing, but there is an interesting implication. "And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, 'There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.' Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, 'As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.' "

As it turns out, the lamb in the story represented a woman, Bathsheba, and the evil rich man was David himself, who had murdered her husband to steal her for himself. But what I think is interesting is that this story paints a picture of a sheep being treated as a member of a the family, a pet - not just as livestock to give wool and one day become a meal. David didn't seem to think this was unusual - in fact, he was enraged that someone would take someone else's pet sheep and destroy it. Echoing this, the Psalms and then Jesus Himself characterize God's people as His sheep, with God being the shepherd who loves each sheep so much that if one goes astray, He will go find it and bring it back. That goes way past the level of "Oh well, I still have 99 sheep, let that one feed the wolves tonight." It seems obvious that even in those days, a pet sheep wasn't a totally alien concept.

But do animals have a spirit? Well, anyone who has spent a lot of time around animals knows that they can be intelligent indeed. In fact, there is a story in Numbers 22:22-35 where God actually temporarily gives a donkey who is being abused (for doing the right thing, saving his master's life, though the master didn't know it) the ability to speak! The story is a bit surreal, because the donkey's master Balaam doesn't even seem surprised when the donkey talks to him. "Then the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, 'What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?' And Balaam said to the donkey, 'Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.' And the donkey said to Balaam, 'Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?' And he said, 'No.' " (verses 28-30) This doesn't tell us that animals have a spirit, but it does imply that they are intelligent enough to both make wise and selfless decisions, and to know when they are being treated badly.

There is a passage in Ecclesiastes that does say outright that animals have a spirit. Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 says: "For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?" (boldface mine) In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon is basically expressing his doubts about just about everything, so I'm not sure if this is him sharing something he knew, or using poetic symmetry to make a point.

But, will Fluffy be there in Heaven when I get there? Heaven won't be the same without my beloved Spot or Puddles or Felix! Well, let me preface this by saying that I believe that life in eternity will be such that our short time on this planet will feel like the opening scroll of Star Wars - the part before the real movie begins. Not to minimize what we do on Earth - we have a charge from God to do good, help the poor and widows and orphans, and spread the Gospel across the world. But from that side, I think this side will feel like preface. I'm not sure we really know whether we will miss pets if it turns out they aren't there.

But I think there will be animals in Heaven. The book of Revelation talks several times about horses in Heaven, including a whole army all riding white horses behind Jesus, who is also on a white horse. In Isaiah chapter 11 there is a passage that talks about animals who are mortal enemies on this earth being OK with each other when Messiah reigns: the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the goat, calves and lions, cows and bears. Even cobras! Now, the book of Revelation tells us that there is Heaven, but ultimately there will be a new Earth as well, and this passage really refers to the new Earth. So, were these animals previously in Heaven? And, to bring things back around, are they animals who lived on our Earth and died, or are they new animals? Scripture doesn't really tell us.

Near-death experience literature is a huge genre. It shouldn't be taken as gospel truth - it's not the Bible, and it's pretty certain that some of it is completely fictional. But if we assume that some of it describes true experiences of people who have literally died, seen Heaven, and come back, you'll find many instances where people describe animals in Heaven. Is that proof? Of course not. But it's an interesting data point.

The Bible is about God's relationship to creation in general, but humans in particular. It doesn't tell me whether I'll get to one day pet Skipper's fuzzy head again. But it doesn't tell me I won't! So is it my opinion that animals that lived on this Earth will one day live again in eternity? In my opinion, I kind of think they will. I think this creation was damaged badly by the sins of the human race, and God's ultimate goal is by His grace to restore that creation to what it was originally intended to be. Sin brought death, which means that death was never God's plan, which implies that my furry friends and yours shouldn't have had to ever end their lives in the first place. If God is resurrecting all of creation, that includes my fuzzy buddy.

Do dogs (and cats, and birds, and horses and wolves and lambs and whatever) go to Heaven? I don't know for sure. But if they can, Skipper is there now, having a great time, probably hanging out with my father-in-law. Maybe Don is FINALLY getting enough time to teach Skipper how to fetch the ball and actually bring it back!