Cats and dogs in heaven? Don't laugh

It may surprise you to learn which Christians believe that animals will inhabit the new earth

I am a cat person. I would like to believe there will be cats in the new creation, even though sadly they do not appear in the Bible. Why they are not is a question that I will possibly gain enough wisdom in eternity not to ask.

But will there be cats and dogs or other creatures with us, in the new Jerusalem? A surprising line up of saints will say “Yes”.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism is one.

“There is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in church teaching.” — George Conger

His sermon number 60 “The General Deliverance” gives his thoughts on animals. Inevitably Romans 8 comes up:

“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God….” (Romans 8:19-21 NIV)

And here is Wesley’s take, in which he sees animals, as part of creation, brought into the freedom and glory:

“But will ‘the creature’, will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition? God forbid that we should affirm this; yea, or even entertain such a thought! While ‘the whole creation groaneth together’, (whether men attend or not,) their groans are not dispersed in idle air, but enter into the ears of Him that made them. … He seeth ‘the earnest expectation’ wherewith the whole animated creation ‘waiteth for’ that final ‘manifestation of the sons of God;’ in which ‘they themselves also shall be delivered” (not by annihilation; annihilation is not deliverance) ‘from the’ present ‘bondage of corruption, into’ a measure of ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.’

“Nothing can be more express: Away with vulgar prejudices, and let the plain word of God take place. They ‘shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into glorious liberty’, even a measure, according as they are capable, of ‘the liberty of the children of God.'”

[Wesley] indulges in a little speculation: that in the new creation, animals may know that God loves them.

Wesley’s vision is of a creation restored and even moved to a higher state of being. This idea is based on Isaiah 11:6-9 – the earlier part of this chapter is fulfilled in Christ, “the shoot that comes from the stump of Jesse” (King David’s father). However the next few verses of prophecy, if that is what they are, are unfulfilled:

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] 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 cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”

“In that day” Wesley preaches, “all the vanity to which they are now helpless subject will be abolished; they will suffer no more, either from within or without; the days of their groaning are ended.”

If Calvin is right, we will see animals on the new Earth but we can’t be sure which ones.

In Wesley’s vision, the order of creation is maintained. Mankind remains above the animal kingdom. But he indulges in a little speculation: that in the new creation, animals may know that God loves them.

Finally, he answers the question of what use this sort of discussion serves: “They may encourage us to imitate Him whose mercy is over all his works. They may soften our hearts towards all the meaner creatures knowing that the Lord careth for them”.

So who else believes we will be sharing space with cats and dogs in eternity?

Martin Luther: “Be thou comforted, little dog, thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.” He was talking about his own dog, as the animal was on the point of death.

Billy Graham: Asked if someone would see their pet in Heaven, Graham answered “I do not believe that Scripture gives us any direct answer about this, although many Bible scholars believe there will be animals in heaven.” He pointed to the Isaiah passage above. “There is one thing you can be certain of, however,” Graham added. “he wants us to be completely happy in Heaven – and we will be. Therefore if God knows we will be happier because there will be animals with us in Heaven, then you can be assured He will do what is best for us.”

This Billy Graham quote is often recounted as relating to a dog, but tracking down the best source I could find makes it clear it was a question about a “pet”.

John Calvin: The reformer takes a similar view to Luther. Commenting on Romans 8:21 which describes creation as subject to frustration, Calvin writes “Thus the condemnation of mankind is imprinted on the heavens, and on the earth, and on all creatures. It hence also appears to what excelling glory the sons of God shall be exalted; for all creatures shall be renewed in order to amplify it, and to render it illustrious.”

He is careful not to go beyond the text. “But he means not that all creatures shall be partakers of the same glory with the sons of God; but that they, according to their nature, shall be participators of a better condition; for God will restore to a perfect state the world, now fallen, together with mankind. But what that perfection will be, as to beasts as well as plants and metals, it is not meet nor right in us to inquire more curiously; for the chief effect of corruption is decay”.

If Calvin is right, we will see animals on the new Earth but we can’t be sure which ones. So maybe cats and dogs will be there. Here’s hoping. Does it help that one of my cats is called Aslan?

Which brings in C. S. Lewis, whose The Problem of Pain gives a very different view of animal immortality. For Lewis, tame animals, living in peace with mankind, are closest to how creation was meant to be. He concludes that “in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their master.”

For Lewis, it is the relationship of human to pet that gives animals the possibility of living on the new Earth. “The man will know his dog: the dog will know its master, and in knowing him will be itself.”

But Lewis says this is something Christians may “justly hesitate” to believe. He is not sure. So count him as a “maybe” on the issue of cat and dog immortality.

Summing up theologians for and against animals in eternity, George Conger who manages to both be a minister and a journalist, gives the following line-up:

“Oxford theologian Dr. Andrew Linzey (who has informed my thinking on these issues) has noted, there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in church teaching. Philosophers, writers, artists and theologians as varied as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Fenelon and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls. Descartes defended the distinction between humans and animals based on the belief that language is a necessary condition for mind and as such animals were soulless machines. On other side of the issue we find theologians, philosophers and preachers as diverse as Calvin, Goethe, St John of the Cross, C.S. Lewis, Bishop Butler, John Wesley, and Billy Graham, who believe animals will find a place in heaven.

“Traditional Catholic theology based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas (Thomism) argues that animals will not be in heaven. In her book, Humanae Vitae: a generation later, Catholic scholar Janet Smith writes that one of the differences between humans and animals is that while animals engage in reproductive sexual congress to create another member of the species, humans engage in procreative sexual intercourse, “wherein they cooperate with God to bring into existence a new immortal being.”

A second question that might occur to you is “Did Jesus die so that animals might be saved?” Answer, not really. Animals do not sin, and so logically do not need a saviour. They did not die in Adam, and so need no new Adam. (I Cor 15:22). This also means that human beings face resurrection and judgment, not animals.

If you have come across a serious theologian saying animals sin, or are saved, please let me know.

But if animals are in the new creation they will have benefited from our being reconciled in Christ. Speaking of the creation we currently inhabit, Paul writes, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22 NIV), which presumably includes cats and dogs and other creatures.