Doggy heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 September

We don’t know the details of God’s relationships with his other creatures. Probably shouldn’t speculate.

Years ago, in my junior high school bible class, one of the students asked about doggy heaven. And just for evil fun, I horrified her by quoting Revelation 22.15, which describes New Jerusalem in the new heaven and earth:

Revelation 22.15 NIV
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

So, I joked, all dogs apparently don’t go to heaven. Looks like they go to hell.

No, that’s not the proper context of the verse. The text does literally have oi kýnes/“the dogs.” But you have to remember what dogs were to ancient Judeans. Some of them did have pet dogs, a practice they picked up from the nations round them. But generally dogs in Israel were scavenger animals: They ate garbage, roadkill, and picked off rats and other vermin. They were ritually unclean, not to mention physically unclean. The Judeans tried to keep ’em outside the gates of old Jerusalem, lest they get inside and wreck things and stink up the place. Stands to reason they wouldn’t want any dogs in New Jerusalem either. Dogs were pests.

Various preachers also like to point out certain Pharisees referred to pagan male temple prostitutes as “dogs.” And yeah, maybe that was the idea John had in mind. But more likely it was the idea New Jerusalem wouldn’t have anything chaotic or destructive in it, like roaming packs of wild dogs.

But we really have no idea about domestic dogs in the new heaven.

See, we lack a whole lot of details about what will or won’t be in New Jerusalem. We have the book of Revelation, but Revelation doesn’t say. And Revelation, I remind you, is an apocalypse: The bulk of John’s visions, if not all of John’s visions, aren’t of literal things:

  • Jesus doesn’t literally have a sword sticking out of his mouth. Rv 1.16, 19.15
  • Jesus isn’t literally a seven-horned seven-eyed lamb who looks like he’s been killed. Rv 5.6
  • Satan isn’t literally a big red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. Rv 12.3 Not that Christians haven’t imagined it does look like that.

John was shown what the End was like. Not what the End literally consists of. Jesus didn’t want him—nor us—to have these details. This being the case, we can’t say with full certainty the descriptions of the new heaven/earth in Revelation are what it’ll literally consist of. All we can do is speculate, based on the tiny bits of evidence we have about what some of these visions mean. All we know for certain is Jesus will be there… so whatever it consists of, it’ll be good.

So, housepets in heaven: Don’t know.

I certainly don’t think pets are a bad thing. I gotta wonder about certain pet owners, of course. Some of ’em obsess over their pets to a disturbingly unhealthy degree. I gotta wonder about women who call themselves a “dog mom”: Love your dog all you want, but it’s not your baby, and your experience is not the same as raising human children. But I digress: I don’t see anything wrong with sane pet owners. Nor anything wrong with having pets in heaven.

Here’s the catch: I don’t see anything wrong with marriage either. But Jesus said marriage won’t be valid in heaven. Mt 22.30 (I know; Mormons are in serious denial about that one.) He didn’t go into detail, although many a Christian has speculated it’s because we won’t procreate anymore. I bring this up to point out a relationship we consider totally normal, moral, and (for many) enjoyable—but it’s getting done away with in heaven. So what other radical transformations might we be in for?

Maybe owning pets will be abolished the same as owning humans is getting abolished. All pets go free, and whether they stay with humans is finally voluntary on their part. To me, that sounds way more just and fair than our current situation. But I’m speculating. I don’t know how it’ll work in heaven. Jesus does, but he didn’t tell us.

Animals and their animae/“souls.”

Talk to some Christians about whether the housepets are going to heaven, and quite frequently you’ll run into the dismissive answer, “Oh, animals don’t go to heaven. They can’t. They don’t have souls.”

A soul is a lifeforce. If something’s alive, of course it has a lifeforce; it’d be dead otherwise. So this means every living thing has a soul. Humans have souls. Animals have souls. Trees have souls. Single-cell eukaryotes have a soul. Scientists are still debating whether viruses are alive, or if they’re merely active code in a protein shell—but if alive, even viruses have souls.

No I haven’t turned hippie on you. The Latin word for “soul” is anima. Obviously it’s where we got our word “animal.” Because animals obviously have a lifeforce—they’re living, breathing, moving, doing, and reproducing. Plants are less obviously alive, but they are, so they have a lifeforce too. As do fungi and bacteria.

Stones, metals, bodies of water, gases, and plasmas have no lifeforce. Nor do dead things.

The myth animals have no souls, comes from an overreaction to animism, the pagan belief everything has a soul. Including stones, metals, bodies of water, gases, and plasmas. Including your favorite car, favorite recliner, favorite stuffed toy, favorite blanket. And particularly statues of false gods.

The myth also comes from confusing humans’ immortal souls with what we figure are animals’ mortal souls. Y’see, humans were originally created to live forever. Due to sin, we don’t: We die, and our souls get snuffed out like a candle. But we will get resurrected, with a new eternal soul, and won’t die again. Whereas animals weren’t created to live forever, but were given lifespans. Sometimes really short lifespans. They die.

Okay, we get resurrected. Do animals? Do they stay dead? Do they have any afterlife? Any of ’em getting resurrected? We have no idea. The scriptures aren’t just mute on the subject: They say we have no idea.

Ecclesiastes 3.21 KWL
Who knows whether Adam’s child’s spirit ascends upward,
and an animal spirit descends below, into the ground?

’Cause that’s what the ancients thought: Our spirits went to the second or third heaven, either torment or paradise; but animal spirits were buried in the ground with the animal bodies. But same as now, some ancients wondered whether that was really so. ’Cause pets. Couldn’t God permit a favorite donkey to go to heaven? Let a pet cat into paradise?

For those who insist the bible has all the answers: Sorry. Here it doesn’t.

And maybe it’s best we don’t know.

Let’s say God does let animals into heaven. That when Jesus died to save the world and grant us access to eternal life, ’twasn’t just for us, but for every soul in the world. Including all the animal souls.

Okay. You know how some people just love animals? Not just sorta kinda like them, but love them? Keep dozens of pets, create animal shelters and sanctuaries, agitate for more humane laws regarding animals, even support animal rights? Yeah, that kind of animal lover. Now imagine if they had any hint whatsoever that animals need to hear the gospel so Jesus can save them. You know they’re gonna drop everything they’re doing, and struggle their entire lives, spend their entire fortunes, to make sure Fluffy and Fido can learn and “say” some version of the sinner’s prayer, and be with them in paradise.

Meanwhile humans are gonna go by the wayside. Kinda like they already do.

I don’t know, and neither do you, whether animals need Jesus. Whether God has any plan of individual salvation for them. Whether sinful animals can repent and turn to Jesus, or even have the mental and moral capacity to do such a thing. I could speculate, and write some really weird Watership Down-style fiction. Still don’t know.

I will say whatever the deal is, it’s entirely God’s business. Not ours.

If God saves animals—if Jesus died so they too can have eternal life—I expect they’re not getting resurrected for our sake, but theirs—so they can enjoy heaven. You realize they may not enjoy a heaven where humans spend eternity making ’em beg for treats, put choke chains on them, make ’em pee outside, and force ’em to wear unnecessary sweaters. Our attitudes about our pets, just like our attitudes about our spouses and kids, may have to undergo a radical transformation in heaven. (And probably should start here on earth.)

I grew up with this idea, so I admit I’m a bit biased in its direction: I’m not sure God does save animals. It’s not what they’re for. Animals were created as a package deal with Earth’s biosphere. New Earth may have an entirely different biosphere—and require entirely different species created for it. Not resurrected animals from this earth. (After all, imagine God resurrecting every single bacterium since the first one. Yikes.)

Jesus ate fish after he was resurrected. Lk 24.42-43 So there are gonna be carnivores in heaven. People have pointed out Revelation has horses in it, and I sometimes joke they’re where heaven’s meat is gonna come from. But the existence of meat means there will be death in heaven: Something died so you can have a heavenly horse tri-tip sandwich. Human death is getting abolished, but not necessarily animal death.

This being the case, I expect our pets are unlikely to get resurrected as special requests once we get to heaven. I used to say, “Well, once we get there, if we still miss our pets, and ask God with proper motives, maybe he’ll bring ’em back.” But here’s the thing: If we can’t take our earthly possessions with us to heaven, why would God make an exception for living earthly possessions? Yeah, you’re very attached to your dog… but y’notice your kids are mighty attached to their phones, and your materialist neighbors are mighty attached to their money. I’m not sure God’s gonna recognize much difference, and not sure he’ll make us any exceptions.

I know it sounds like I don’t have a lot of hope for housepets making it to heaven. Honestly, what I have is a fair amount of skepticism about the motives of people who want their pets in heaven with them. Too many people worship their pets. God’s not gonna indulge our idolatry.

When Jesus told us to love one another, he meant we’re to love our fellow humans. Not our pets. Animals are no substitute for humans, as Adam realized fairly soon after his creation. Ge 2.19-24 Some people don’t share Adam’s commonsense.

But if you want hope, remember God is good. Knowing his goodness and generosity, there might be a chance. I suspect it’s slim, but I could be wrong. So I won’t foolishly say anything definite. And those who really wish there was a doggy heaven shouldn’t foolishly claim it exists when God and the scriptures don’t say. It could happen; God specializes in the impossible. Still.