Is the Rainbow Bridge something real or a myth than makes losing a loved one easier to bear? The book I’ve always wanted to write (but couldn’t) would answer two very important questions:
- What happens to animals after they die?
- Will our most beloved pets be waiting for us on the other side?
I’ve researched the issue and prayed about it. Personal experience and an in-depth search of God’s Word informed my opinion but there didn’t appear to be any definitive scripture to elevate my opinion to something I could offer as truth. I’ve waited years to write this post.
In a 1989 cartoon, Charles Schultz shared a conversation between Lucy and Snoopy as she reviews something he’s typed out:
Lucy: “I don’t think your subject is serious enough. You should write something that is really thought-provoking. Write about something that’s been a puzzle since the beginning of the world.”
Snoopy’s new title: “Will there be dogs in heaven?”
There are many books about this subject on my shelves, some scholarly and weighty while others are more hopeful. None offered a clue or answers worth sharing because the answers must be God’s, not mine.
Then I discovered Dan Story’s book, Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven? – People, Pets, and Wild Animals in the Afterlife
Do Animals Go to Heaven?
Story wrote the book I’ve been looking for. His extensive background in Christian environmental ethics and Christian apologetics led him to address the questions as a series of related scriptural truths instead of suggesting one proof-text that settles the matter.
Add to his professional credentials a deep love for all animals with a few special family members he’s hoping to see again one day, like Sam the Black Labrador and Bear, a Golden Retriever.
Recognizing the manner by which the author proves his position shouldn’t have been the surprise it was. The Bible seldom gives black and white “shoulds” about human nature. What’s right or wrong is always wrapped in context of the state of our relationship to God, not a laundry list of Do’s and Don’ts any nine-year-old can understand and apply.
If the conclusion matters to whether you continue reading, I’ll spill it here. Dan Story absolutely believes that both domesticated and wild animals will be resurrected and share heaven with you. He arrived at this conclusion using God’s Word.
Relationships differ as widely as those in them. There are foundational truths, but the nitty gritty of daily life is worked out like salvation, “with fear and trembling.” Truth isn’t something you master, it’s something that comes from right relationship with Christ, renewed every day.
If you’re unconvinced about the truth of the Rainbow Bridge, read Story’s book. It’s packed with theology, scripture, and reasoned conclusions.
Systematic Biblical Support For Animals in Heaven
What’s the truth about animals and eternity? In this post I’ll share some of Dan Story’s arguments without the extensive biblical and documentary support he provides in the book. If you want all the details, buy the book!
An important element of Dan Story’s argument is that God loves the animals He created apart from their use or relationship to man.
“Animals have intrinsic worth because God created, values, and finds joy in them.”“Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven?”
Why Animals Will Be in Heaven
Consider the following bullet points as a story, built chapter by chapter. The issue of where animals spend eternity isn’t specifically answered by one bible verse. God expects us to dig out truth, to immerse ourselves in His Word when we have important questions.
- If animals have no purpose except to serve people, why did God create so many varieties that have absolutely no instrumental value for humans?
- Animals were named. Genesis never says Adam named the trees or flowers.
- Animals were Adam and Eve’s only companions until they were banished from the Garden of Eden
- People don’t own animals. God emphasizes His ownership of the animal kingdom in Psalm 50:10-11: “Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine”
- Did you notice that wild animals accompanied Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness? (Mark 1: 13).
- God didn’t create new animals after the flood but saved both domesticated and wild animals from the flood. Why expect that animals in heaven will be new creations instead of those who lived before?
- God’s post-flood covenant was with all life, not just human life.
- God provides food, shelter, and habitats for wild animals apart from human considerations. Additionally, only God is present and observes much of what happens in nature.
- God gave specific stewardship rules to the Israelites that included provisions for wild animals. “Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.” (Ex. 23: 10–11, also Lev. 25: 1–7).
- God’s command to protect domesticated animals also includes an enemy’s livestock (Ex. 23: 4–5).
- God breathed His “Spirit” into animals to give them life (Psalm 104: 30). He establishes their territories, provides their shelter, and gives them their daily food (also see Job 38: 41; Ps. 136: 25; 145: 15-16; 147: 8-9; Joel 1: 19-20; 2: 21-22; Luke 12: 24).
- All creation—including wild animals—is portrayed worshiping and praising the Creator.
- “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Ps. 150: 6; also Ps. 65: 12–13; 96: 11–12; 98: 4–8).
- Who abolished animal sacrifice? Jesus.
- Animals experience grief, joy, love, jealously and embarrassment, have some sense of self, and possess minds apart from mere physiology.
“Animal behavior often trumps instinct and is expressed in ways that are clearly beyond self-interest and survival of the fittest. Many sentient animals display unique behaviors that appear to exhibit a degree of moral-like integrity.”“Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven?”
God’s Plan Continues – With Animals
The best way to envision why soul-bearing, earth-bound animals will inhabit Heaven is to understand the continuity between Earth, its human and animal inhabitants, and the new heaven and earth described in God’s Word.
If the same Greek word for soul is used for both humans and animals—and God gave human souls immortality—it seems reasonable that He may give immortality to animal souls as well. If nephesh and ruach describe human souls and spirits—which we know are immortal—and the same words refer to animal souls, it suggests they too may be immortal.
“There are literally volumes of data showing that individuals of many species do think about the future.” Many animals recognize when they’re being watched by dominant members—and pretending they don’t know it—offering remarkable insight into the intelligence of sentient animals.
Sidebar: my dachshund Diva strategizes, pretends, and acts in order to get, keep, or protect a toy or tidbit.
Story suggest that “being anthropomorphic is unavoidable because we have to use human languages and experiences to meaningfully describe and explain animal behavior and animal feelings.”
“Just as ethologists use anthropomorphic language to understand and describe animal thoughts and emotions, God uses human language to communicate His holiness and divine messages in a way that humans can understand.”
Ascribing human characteristics to non-human animals.
Story points out that the only form of communication and understanding possible when considering God or animals is what humans understand. God is so much more than our limited vocabulary and intellect can grasp.
God expresses Himself in human terms in the same way we converse about the nature of animals. Is there another option?
There’s No Proof Animals Don’t Have Immortal Souls
Every argument that animals don’t have immortal animal souls is an assumption without biblical justification. On what basis do people insist that animal souls die at physical death, when nothing in the Bible makes such a claim?
Story observes that there’s something theologically odd about discussions of immortal souls, which is the plain absurdity of “humans deciding for themselves which essential or substantial qualities qualify them for eternal life and which may or may not exclude animals.”
I agree with the author that decisions about who does and does not qualify for eternal life is beyond our pay grade.
Do Animals Have Souls?
“The watershed issue of whether or not humans and animals will live on in Heaven is whether or not they have souls. And the fundamental feature of a soul is an immaterial (non-physical) mind that exists distinct from a physical brain.” – Dan Story
Story writes that many acts of altruism, devotion, loyalty, and even lasting friendships have been observed among various animal species. “Experiments with rats have shown that they will not take food if they know their actions will cause pain to another rat.”
Animals Are Often Better People Than We Are
Numerous instances of one species of animal forming a close relationship with an entirely different species of animal have been observed, sometimes even between predator and prey!
Cognitive ethologist Bekoff describes animal grief as remarkably similar to humans: It “showed that when capuchin monkeys were offered a choice between two tokens—one that would buy two slices of apple and one that would buy one slice each for them and a partner monkey—they chose the generous option, provided the partner was a relative or at least familiar to them.”
Further research “demonstrated that mice suffer significantly more distress when they saw a familiar mouse suffering than when they saw the same kind of pain in a stranger.”
Research proves that many animals learn by observation and then apply what they’ve seen to themselves without any direct positive or negative reinforcement. In other words, the training is in the watching, not in the doing. That takes a soul.
Animals Never Fell from Grace
I’ve long said that only humans fell from grace. Only humans look at God’s plan and decides it has a better one. Animals and creation itself suffer because of what we did, not because of what they or it did.
God’s plan promises that Earth will be restored and renewed; sin will be obliterated and the curse removed; and humans and animals will coexist in eternal peace (Isa. 11: 6-9).
Discovering that Dan Story shared my observation that animals don’t sin was an unexpected affirmation. Maybe you can imagine the looks people give me when I say that animals don’t need forgiveness, but rescue.
“What’s important to see here is that nature itself is not sinful; it did not fall. Nature was cursed due to Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God (Gen. 3: 17; cf. Rom. 8: 19-21), and to this day it’s the victim of bad human choices.”“Will Dogs Chase Cats in Heaven?”
Relationship is Still King
The key to heaven for you is your relationship with Jesus Christ. I’ve long wondered if there’s a parallel truth with animals. Will certain of my companion critters be in heaven and others not? If true, will the difference be the depth of our relationship?
Schatzi, Snooker, General, Sky, Chili, and a host of others were as important as any human. There were also many wonderful dogs, cats, and horses with whom my spirit never melded. We loved, appreciated, and enjoyed, but we didn’t share that bond beyond human explanation as I did with the others.
C.S. Lewis’ explanation for animal resurrection supports my hope that “The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God.” Lewis argued that just as people are “in” Christ, so tame animals “attain a real self… in their masters. And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.”
Jesus Removes the Curse
Jesus is the key to heaven for you and the animals you love. God cursed creation when Adam and Eve fell. The pain and injustice inflicted on animals is our doing. God promises to redeem the world and everything in it to right relationship to Him.
Nothing in His Word suggests that He would leave any wrong uncorrected. How else can the suffering of animals be recompensed unless they experience eternity in heaven?
I expect to see many familiar faces in heaven one day. Do you?