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Monday, June 16, 2014

Catch-up Blog #8: Animals In The Afterlife?

Even though I don't make it a major point all of the time, I've also made no attempt to hide the fact that I'm a conservative Christian.  Because my faith is even more a part of who I truly am than my profession, it's something that comes across in my blog on occasion.  And it's what prompted this email from Annette.

A friend shared your blog posts with me because she knows I have the same frustration with rat owners who don't want to get vet care for their rats due to cost.

I happened to notice in your bio that you are a born-again Christian! I am also a Christian (convert to Traditional Roman Catholicism from Orthodox Judaism).

I was wondering what your feelings are on an afterlife for animals? I'd like to direct your attention especially to Romans 8:18-22 where St Paul seems to indicate that ALL CREATION will be restored from the corrupt state brought upon the world by the sin of Adam.

One thing that keeps me going in rat rescue work (with all the abuse and neglect I see of rats day in and day out) is the firm belief that I will see these sweet, affectionate animals again someday. When any of the elderly/terminally ill rats in our St Francis Rat Sanctuary/Hospice are in the process of passing away, I pray over them, I read Romans 8:18-22 to them, and I anoint them with blessed oil. I like to think it comforts them, and gives them some of the love that the world never gave them.

Anyway, I'd be interested to know what you think, as someone who is both a Christian and a veterinarian.

For those who don't have their Bibles handy, let me share those scriptures.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 

Okay, now into the meat of things.  While I'm not an official theologian I do think about God and the Bible a lot and have tried to study as much as I can.  So realize that my comments are my opinion and shouldn't be taken as being the last word on the topic.

First, I think we have to think about whether or not animals have souls.  I don't think that they do, at least in the same sense that humans do.  When we read Genesis we see that humans were created in God's image, but animals weren't.  Throughout the Bible we see that murder is prohibited and is a sin, while animal sacrifice was an acceptable (and often only) way to appease God for someone's sins.  Additionally, in Genesis 1:26-28 we see God giving Man dominion and rule over animals.  So despite what many animal rights folks want to believe, a Christian can't hold to the idea that humans and animals are equal in God's eyes. It is clear that while God loves animals, humans hold a special place in His creation that animals don't.  God Himself puts humans "above" animals.  

But does that mean that animals won't be in Heaven?  Reading the Bible I'd say that they will be.  Besides the passage above in Romans, look at Isaiah 65:25--

The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

In Isaiah's vision it seems clear that after the time of Judgement animals will be in heaven, and they will be redeemed from the corruption that happened after the Fall when Man first sinned.  This is the same point raised by Paul in Romans 8.  And in Revelation John describes Jesus and the armies of Heaven riding on horses.

So what does all of this mean?  Will our favorite animals be in Heaven?  I think it's clear in the Bible that there will be animals in the afterlife, and they will be with us in Heaven.  They don't have souls to be saved because they did not participate in or contribute to the Fall in the Garden of Eden, and Man still has God-given authority over them.**  Therefore their position in Heaven will not be the same as ours, and I don't believe that they will be welcomed in the same way because they are never lost in the same way that humans are.  There can't be a celebration for a long-lost loved-one without that person actually being lost, hence the special place that God has for humans in Heaven.  The animals will be there, but God will still cherish us more and give us a more special place.

In the end I think it comes down to a point made by a story told to me by my father-in-law (a pastor) many years ago, and which I've seen repeated since.  I share it as written by Jack Zavada as part of an article on this topic.
"Parson," she said, tears streaming down her cheeks, "the vicar said animals have no souls. My darling little dog Fluffy has died. Does that mean I won’t see her again in heaven?"
"Madam," said the old priest, "God, in his great love and wisdom has created heaven to be a place of perfect happiness. I am sure that if you need your little dog to complete your happiness, you will find her there."
Annette, I hope this helps!  And I know how you feel about rats, as my daughter has had several and they're amazing creatures.

**I wanted to add this footnote to clarify a point that some may bring up in opposition to my comments.  There is no way that you can read the Bible and say that God did not give Man rule over animals.  However, if you look at the larger context we know that the universe, world, and animals are actually God's, created by Him without any human assistance or intervention.  So when God gives Adam rule over the animals, He is partially giving permission to utilize them, but He is also giving responsibility for caring for them.  As a Christian veterinarian I have no problem with eating meat and wearing leather, because God has given us the authority to do so.  However, we are also given the burden of being sure that we use God's world responsibly and do not abuse our position in it.  Being given "rule" or "dominion" doesn't mean that we have permission to do whatever the heck we want.  It means that we are allowed to use what God has created, but we are also held accountable for what happens to them.  Thinking about it in this way should be humbling, because basically God has given us the entire world and essentially said "Here, this is yours.  Don't mess it up."