Over the years, as pastor and teacher, I have encountered numerous persons grieving over the recent loss of a beloved dog or cat who enquired about the possibility of the resurrection of their pets and other animals. As an inveterate animal lover myself, intimately bonded with some amazing dogs and cats as “family members” since childhood, I have a personal interest in this question. Also, as I have taught the doctrine of the sanctuary and considered the unnumbered animals offered in Old Testament times under the divinely ordained sacrificial system, I have often wondered how God is going to “make things right” for these innocent creatures? Here are some musings.
I do not have any final answers, but I have found some tantalizing hints in Scripture that suggest the possibility of at least some animals (including our pets and the sacrificial animals) being resurrected and saved for eternity. Among the intriguing biblical texts (and other inspired data) consider the following:
Psalm 36:6 affirms: “You save humans and animals alike, O Lord” (NRSV). Though some versions translate save as “preserve,” it is the same Hebrew word used for eternal salvation elsewhere in Scripture.
Micah 4:8 speaks of the restoration of the “first dominion” (KJV) at the end of time. The first dominion, which Adam and Eve had and lost, was dominion over the animals (Gen. 1:28). The Book of Revelation is clear that in heaven the saints will be kings/queens and reign (Rev. 20:4; 5:10; 22:5), and the question naturally arises: if all the saints are kings/queens, over whom will they reign? It seems plausible that the rule will be over the animal kingdom as in the Garden of Eden.
The Scriptures are clear regarding the tender place in God’s heart for the animals. The Book of Jonah ends with God’s concern for the animals of Nineveh. “‘Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons . . . and also much cattle’” (Jonah 4:11, ESV). Genesis 9:10 and Hosea 2:18 speak of God making a covenant with the animals. The Old Testament says the Sabbath was given not only for man, but also that the animals might rest (Ex. 23:12).
Numbers 22 is intriguing: the Lord opens the mouth of Balaam’s donkey, who speaks to his master. Notice that God does not give special intelligence and speech to the donkey, but simply “opens his mouth” and he speaks! Then the angel asks the penetrating question of Balaam, “‘Why have you struck your donkey?’” (vs. 32, NKJV). God was concerned about the cruel abuse of an animal! My daughter, Rahel Schafer, has recently defended her Ph.D. dissertation dealing with the many other passages in which the animals speak, and even cry out to God, and God answers their cry!1 See, for example, Job 12:7–9; 40:15–19; 41:10; Psalm 104:21, 27, 28; and Isaiah 43:20.
Along with God’s frequently expressed concern for the animals in the Old Testament is the instructive verse on the lips of Jesus in the New Testament: “‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God’” (Luke 12:6, NIV). In biblical thought, for God to “remember” is to act in behalf of someone or something (see Genesis 8:1, in which God remembered Noah and the animals in the ark by delivering them from death). If God does not “forget” the sparrows that fall (die), then doesn’t this imply that He will “remember,” i.e., act in behalf of the ones who have fallen—save them?
Romans 8:20 and 21 describes how the whole creation is groaning and travailing, waiting for restoration: “The creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (WEB). Do these references perhaps imply that God’s non-human creatures on this earth, which had no responsibility for the origin of evil, will be ultimately set free from decay/curse by their resurrection/salvation?
I find it fascinating to read the comments of Ellen G. White, describing the affection and trusting qualities of animals: “The intelligence displayed by many dumb animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery. The animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer. They use their organs far more faithfully than many human beings use theirs. They manifest sympathy and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some of the human race. They form attachments for man which are not broken without great suffering to them.”2
A host of recent studies of animal behavior, intelligence, and emotion are now substantiating these comments.3 The love and trust of these animals—are not these the very qualities that God is seeking in His human followers, the qualities that will fit them for heaven? If the animals possess such qualities, are they not also fit for heaven?
C. S. Lewis suggested that perhaps the animals that have been pets and others who have attained to a “soul,” developing positive qualities such as love and trust, will in particular be the ones resurrected.4 What Lewis did not recognize is that the Bible calls all animals “souls” or “persons,” just like human beings (Gen. 1:20, 21, 24, 30; 9:10, etc.).
Throughout his multi-volume allegory of the plan of salvation, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis explored the further possibility of animals talking. The Bible seems to concur: Psalm 148 describes “‘Beasts and all cattle; creeping things and winged fowl” (vs. 10, NASB) as among those creatures that praise the Lord. Revelation 5:13 has “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever’” (NIV).
The language of Psalm 104:24 to 30 may imply the end-time resurrection of marine and celestial as well as terrestrial creatures. S. R. Driver writes: “Few, if any, readers of the Old Testament seem to have noticed that, as the text [of Psalm 104:24–30] stands and as it can only be read without violating normal standards of interpretation, they are committed to the strange doctrine of the resurrection not only of man and of birds and beasts but also of Leviathan and the ‘creeping’ or rather ‘gliding things innumerable’ which swim in the sea (Ps. civ. 10–30).”5 Driver points out that the “they all” (vs. 27, NASB) which “are created” (vs. 30, NIV) “must mean all, not some, of them, sc. of God’s creatures, whether men and beasts and birds or fishes, mentioned in the course of the psalm.”6 Although Driver acknowledges that this is the meaning of the text in its present form, he assumes such meaning to be “objectionable” and thus suggests radical excision of the text. But if one accepts the text as it stands, as I think is the best position to take, then this passage seems to point toward the resurrection of a wide range of animals.
I do not intend to imply that the above evidence is conclusive. It is only suggestive at best. But there are enough “hints” in inspired sources that we do not need to inform our children when they lose pets that they will never see them again. For children, whose whole life may have been wrapped up in a precious pet, to tell them the animal will never be resurrected, unnecessarily gives negative signals about God’s character of love. I suggest, instead, that parents tell their children, when a pet dies, “When you get to heaven, if you want your pet to be there, God will certainly give you the desire of your heart.” This is a safe answer, for Scripture says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4, NKJV), and if the animals should not be resurrected, then in our immortal state we will not desire them. Paul’s promise in 1 Corinthians 2:9 is to the point (quoting Isaiah), “‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (NRSV). Why not envision the resurrection of our pets and other animals in this promise?
I find the possibility of the resurrection of animals consistent with the whole great controversy between and Christ and Satan, in which God will at last make everything right. When I think of all the innocent animals that have suffered at the hands of cruel humans, and other animals who have suffered while Satan rejoiced, I’m led to believe that God can hardly wait to make right this part of Satan’s work, too. One must also take account of all the innocent sacrifices as part of the divinely ordained Old Testament ceremonial system, which revealed in symbolism the horror of sin and its baleful results, and pointed toward the coming of the Lamb of God. I cannot imagine that God would allow all of this divinely directed innocent suffering without finally “remembering” those who have suffered by saving/resurrecting them!
I’m not “dog”matic about this suggestion. God may have another way to solve this problem that is far beyond what I now imagine! I know God will do what is best. Someday soon we will know for sure when we see Him (and our pets and other animals?) face to face in heaven! In that day, “there will no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away!” (Rev. 21:4, NASB).
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