Pet heaven . . . or not?

 
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I should never have said anything. We were leaving our dog with the neighbours during our family holiday and my wife was handing over a letter of authorisation for the vet in case our dog should come down with an ailment in our absence. “Should we give the vet some sort of dollar limit?” I asked. I loved our dog, but I didn’t want to pay for the world’s first heart-lung transplant in a dachshund.

My wife just gave me a glance that was equal parts pity and strained patience. OK, there would be no limit.

With more than half of Aussie and Kiwi households owning either a dog or a cat, it’s obvious that we love pets, and our insides turn into a smoothie if anything happens to them. One question a heartbroken child will ask when they lose a cat or dog or even a fish is, “Will I see Sparky in heaven?”

Well, that question has been settled. No less a clergyman than Pope Paul VI, when he met a boy grieving the loss of his pet, answered the question this way: “One day we will again see our animals in the eternity of Christ.” The pope was apparently more confident in his knowledge than sage King Solomon, who wondered, “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:21).

That sounds like Solomon wasn’t even sure that there would be a resurrection for humans! His tone is consistent with the rest of the Old Testament, which only hints at the possibility of life after death. In fact, when you come up to the time of Christ, you find that Jewish theologians were split on the issue. The Sadducees, who were the most “high church” of the religious groups, thought the idea of the resurrection was ridiculous. They tried to sandbag Jesus with a question about a woman who had seven successive husbands, each of whom died in presumably tragic circumstances. Then they posed this question to Jesus: “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:28). Gotcha! I’m sure they could hardly stop smirking at their own cleverness.

“You do not know the Scriptures,” Jesus replied. “Have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (verses 29, 31).

Jesus clearly promised a resurrection, and He actually raised three people from the dead, including Lazarus, who had been in his tomb long enough to be causing offensive odours. Christ’s own resurrection was widely confirmed and became one of the central pillars of the disciples’ witness for the rest of their lives.

The apostle Paul boldly preached many Christian beliefs and he was especially blunt about the resurrection. “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” he said. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 19, 20).

This is the hope we need at every funeral. Sometimes it’s all that keeps us from collapsing in total despair when we lose a parent or a sibling or—God forbid—a child. But can we look to that comfort when we lose a pet? We have stories of Jesus restoring a son and, later, a daughter to their grieving parents. If only there was a story of Jesus bringing a pet back to its owner then we could settle this. We could tell a grieving friend, “Don’t worry, you will see Sparky again.”

Instead of an absolute promise that our pet will be resurrected, we have something else. Follow me closely here. We have evidence of a God who values relationships. “Here I am!” Jesus says in Revelation 3:20. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Not only does God enjoy connecting with us, He also wants us to have good relationships with each other. One of the great themes of the Bible is God telling us how to get along with our neighbours. That is the point of six of the Ten Commandments. Those commandments build a fence against behaviours such as murder, adultery and stealing that can most quickly ruin relationships.

If God pursues a relationship with us and protects our relationships with each other, might He also value our connection with our pets? The Bible says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29). God cares about you. He cares about animals. Your pets are His creation. Is it a big leap to think that He will reinstate your relationship with the animals that have meant the most to you in this life?

You know that family holiday I mentioned earlier? We were gone for many weeks. I would think of our dog from time to time and I knew that he was watching at the window for our return. I was right. We got reports that he watched all day, every day. He didn’t want to go on long walks because he feared he’d miss us when we returned. When we did return, he jumped and wriggled and barked in excitement. We were reunited.

Death is not a permanent separation; just an interruption in the eternal life that God offers as a gift. For now our loved ones sleep and wait for that day when, according to the apostle Paul, “the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess­alonians 4:16). This is the reason we can look forward to a grand reunion with our closest friends, be they man or beast.