This week I received a question from a woman named Dianne who writes:
My dog, Franklin, just passed away. He’s been in our family for 14 years, and it’s really hard on my kids who grew up with him. Is there anything in the Bible about animals going to heaven?
First of all, Dianne, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Pets truly do become part of our families–especially ones with personality. My wife, Robin, had a dog named Max that she raised since he was a puppy. He also lived until he was 14, so I understand the emotional weight.
I do have an answer to your question (Please forgive me for my use of humor in a few places–topics like this often need to be discussed lightheartedly).
Do animals go to heaven? This can be a touchy subject for many people, so I want to be sure to offer the most biblical answer I possibly can. To tell you the truth, the answer might surprise you. In speaking about death, King Solomon wrote this:
Ecclesiastes 3:21–Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”(NIV)
So, basically, the biblical answer is “Who knows?” (does anyone find that as humorous as I do?). In other words, this is just one of those debates that Christians could fuss about for years and never come to a certain answer because Scripture isn’t clear.
Nevertheless, we do know that animals will be part of eternity. If there are no animals in heaven, how will Jesus and the armies of heaven come back riding on white horses? (Revelation 19:11-14)
Or how about these Scriptures that pertain to the eternal “new heavens and new earth:”
Isaiah 65:17 and 25–“Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind….The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. (NIV)
Isaiah 11:6-9–The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (NIV)
Is all this mere symbolism? Or is God literally talking about animals being part of eternity? I have a hard time reading so much specific detail and interpreting it as anything but literal. From the looks of things, there will be animals as part of eternity.
We also know that there are creatures in heaven that are like nothing we have ever seen on earth:
Revelation 4:7-8–In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (NIV)
So, yes, animals will be part of eternity. The question, though, is whether or not these are animals that have died on this earth and were given “resurrection bodies” like we will receive. Or are they totally different animals that were created in heaven and have never lived on earth? Again, the biblical answer is, “Who knows?”
To show the opposing argument, a friend of mine once surprised me by saying, “I hope my dog isn’t in heaven. If every dog who died throughout all time went to heaven, that would mean every hamster, rabbit, gerbil, mouse, and rat would be there too. Heaven would be overrun with rodents!”
On the other hand, another friend argued back (half-jokingly) that perhaps only the animals who have been pets of Christians will be there. “After all,” he said, “Paul and Silas told the Philippian jailer, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household‘” (Acts 16:31, NIV).
Then someone brought up Colossians 1:23, which says that the gospel “has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.” They also cited the Great Commission: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15, NIV). “Does that include animals?” they asked.
I’m not saying I agree with any of these positions, but this question wouldn’t be thoroughly answered without them.
As you can see, the debate can be pretty interesting (and even funny at times), but it will never be answered definitively until we’re actually standing in eternity. It comforts us to believe we will one day be reunited with our deceased pets, but this should not be the reason we want to go to heaven. Jesus is our reason. If seeing a pet again is my only motivation, then I can assure you that I won’t get there. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus.
In short, I see nothing biblically wrong with hoping to see your pets again, but I also see nothing in the Bible to assure us that they will be in heaven.
It would be cruel to look a crying child in the eye and say, “Fido is dead forever. Get over it.” So I won’t recommend taking that angle. But I don’t know if I would tell my children that he’s in heaven with Jesus either (then again, I haven’t personally faced that situation). There’s just not enough biblical evidence to support either side of the debate. Maybe he’s there. Maybe he’s not. “Who knows?”
What we do know is that as long as we are on this earth, there are animals–created by God–that can bring us pleasure and enjoyment. And when we are in heaven, there will be animals to enjoy and interact with there too. By the looks of the passage above from Revelation, we will likely even get to worship God alongside these creatures!
Above all, we know that whether we are on earth or in heaven, we still have Jesus. He is constant.
Psalm 139:7-10–I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. (NLT)
Romans 8:38-39–For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)
Hebrews 12:2–Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)