Will we see our pets in the next life?
“You got a dog?” exclaimed one of my daughters as we pulled back a small blanket from my wife’s lap to reveal a new puppy, a miniature Dachshund we named Rachel. For almost 17 years, Rachel would prove to be a source of joy and comfort for our family, especially through some challenging seasons; a job loss, a scary medical diagnosis, and an empty nest, to name a few. A few years ago, Rachel became blind, developed a heart condition, and suffered severe digestive issues. And while many encouraged us to “put her down,” she was family, and we counted it a joy to make the necessary accommodations of love.
As I pulled back a small blanket from my lap to reveal Rachel to the veterinarian a few weeks ago, there was no joy in the room, for her body was shutting down, and we were preparing to say goodbye to our strong little girl. As she closed her eyes for the last time, the memories flowed as freely as the tears. Behind the wheel that afternoon, I struggled silently with a theological question that had haunted me for many years, will we see Rachel again?
Some argue we will be reunited with our pets, as presented in the famous poem, Rainbow Bridge (in part):
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
But what does the Bible say? It would appear there is much more scriptural support against seeing our pets again. One of my favorite theologians and church leaders, Thomas Aquinas, believed that to keep animals as pets was cruel and that they should be able to run in the fields and fly in the air unhindered by leash or cage; therefore, God would not honor such forced relationships on earth through a reuniting in heaven. We have many scriptures that reveal humans are the only part of God’s creation standing as uniquely eternal, which is what goes on in the next life (Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 32:9, Psalm 49:12).
Yet, some scriptures imply we will see our pets again. Take Isaiah 11:6-9, a prophetic scripture giving us a detailed peek into the window of the new heaven and new earth. In this picture of peace and unity we find;
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea”
Did you notice how many animals God lists in this picture of our future? Ten! One is tempted to ask, why is it important for God to have animals in heaven? We also can’t neglect the most popular and powerful of all animals’ stories in the Bible; Noah’s Ark. Interesting that God saved, or redeemed, all of the animals through the flood with Noah and his family.
As all of these scriptures and thoughts rushed into my grieving mind on the way home from the veterinarian that day, I still was not convinced either way. Until I remembered I Corinthians 13:4-8a;
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; [ it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."
As I dug the hole in our backyard for Rachel, I smiled, through tears, because of the hope that we will see her again. The love we had for Rachel for 17 years will never die. Is it too much to believe that God will allow that undying love to walk beside us on our way to that mansion on the hilltop? We will cross that bridge when we come to it.
Scripture: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” -I Cor. 13:12, ESV
Question: Do I recognize that all gifts, including our pets, are from God who should be praised for His love?
Prayer: Father, thank you for allowing pets to be used as tools of comfort and joy. May I never praise or worship your creation more than you as the Creator. And, while I want to see my beloved pets again, may the source of my comfort and joy always be found in you.