SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
February 14, 2011
Do pets go to heaven? It would be sad for many people if they're in heaven without their pets.
There is no definite answer in Scripture and the Church has not officially pronounced on this issue.
A number of Old Testament texts speak of animals but none of them mention eternal life for them as they do for humans. Both are formed from the ground (Genesis 2.7, 19). God's covenant with Noah (Genesis 9.9-11) includes animals but that was that God would not destroy the earth by flood again.
The commandments (Deuteronomy 5.12-15) include Sabbath rest for animals as well as humans but nothing about heaven for animals.
A day will come when animals and man will be in harmony (Isaiah 11.1-9) but this is not necessarily in heaven. The Book of Ecclesiastes (3.11) speaks of eternity for humans and then in verse 21: "The spirit of humans which goes upward and the spirit of the animal which goes down to the earth." It seems to differentiate between the destiny of humans and animals.
The New Testament speaks of God's care for plants and animals in texts such as: "Birds . . . your heavenly Father feeds them . . . lilies of the field . . . Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like these" (Matthew 6.26-29). But these refer to the care God gives to creation and says nothing about eternal life.
The New Testament does speak of redemption for all of creation through Christ's sacrifice: "Creation will be set from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8.21), but this text does not necessarily refer to heaven.
Ephesians clearly includes all of creation: God will "gather together in Christ all things in heaven and on earth" (1.10).
There are animals in Revelation's depiction of the end times.
Revelation speaks of the newness of all things which God will effect at the end of time: "New heaven and new earth . . . holy city, the new Jerusalem coming out of heaven from God . . . a loud voice saying, 'the home of God is among mortals. God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God's people . . . be with them, . . . wipe away every tear. Death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more'" (Revelation 21.1-4).
Is this a real description of heaven? Or is it symbolic of the reward prepared by the God of love?
The concept of "newness" which God will bring about is spoken of in the Old Testament. Isaiah spoke of a new heaven and earth in which life will be one continual act of worship (66.22).
The literature between the testaments speaks of this transformation of heaven and earth (1 Enoch 45.4) and when the new heaven and earth appear "the light of heaven will be seven times brighter and the new earth will last forever" (1 Enoch 72.1).
The picture is always there and the elements are the same: no more sorrow or sin or suffering when temporary time is changed to everlasting eternity.
Jesus speaks of heaven in the Gospels: "I am going now to prepare a place for you . . . return to take you with me" (John 14.1-3). Paul speaks of life on this earth 'in Christ, with Christ and for Christ' leading us to eternal life with Christ.
St. Francis' example of relating to and preaching to the birds who stayed to listen is an interesting aspect of respect for animals. When redemption is complete, this earth transformed into a paradise will be for all renewed creation.
Heaven isn't just about human happiness and physical well-being. Heaven is about praising God in a different kind of encounter: "Now we see dimly . . . then we will see face to face" (1 Corinthians 13.12).
To see God "face to face" means to experience God in intimacy and immediacy. Heaven is about being continuously in the presence of God for all eternity with no worry, no fear, no feeling of loss, no anxiety.
The joy and peace experienced in eternal life cannot even be imagined in this life: "No eye has seen nor ear heard nor the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love God" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
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