“Do Animals Go to Heaven?”
Isaiah 11: 6 -9
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
October 21, 2018
I was 24 years old — a seminary student intern and a youth director at an United Church of Christ in New Haven, Connecticut. One Sunday evening, a 14 year old girl named Sara came to youth group in tears. Her beloved cat whom she had known her entire life had died the night before. Sara was heartbroken. With tears in her eyes she asked me, “Will I see my cat in heaven?” I did not know the answer to that question so I offered some pastoral words of comfort, “I sure hope so because I don’t want to be a part of Heaven if there are no animals.” Later that week, I sent her a sympathy card with the poem “The Rainbow Bridge.”
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. 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.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. Her eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, her legs carrying her faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together….
The Rainbow Bridge, I believe, is a beautiful answer to the question, “Will I see my beloved pet in heaven?” The following Sunday I asked Sara if she had received my card with the poem, “The Rainbow Bridge?” “Yes. Thank you,” she politely responded, “but what does the Bible say about animals in heaven?”
What does the Bible say? I spent many hours in seminary studying, discussing, debating the Virgin Birth, the atonement theory, Jesus bodily resurrection, women in ministry – but never did the question, “Do animals go to heaven?” land on any of my seminary syllabi. But Sara was serious, “What does the Bible say about animals going to heaven?”
I had an assignment before me. I discovered that the Bible does not directly say anything about animals going to heaven. Biblical scholars appeared split on this question. Some said, “No – only people go to heaven.” Other scholars said, “Yes,” and offered some scripture passages in support. The first paradise, the first heaven, the Garden of Eden was filled with every kind of animal imaginable and God declared those animals “good.” Therefore, the second heaven – in the afterlife will be filled with every kind of animal, too. Moreover, in the book of Revelation, we read that Jesus will come back riding on a white horse. (Whether or not we believe in the second coming of Christ, it does appear from that passage that there are horses in heaven. Do we have any horse owners among us?) The book of Psalms declares that God will save humans and animals alike (Psalm 35) – now that is the true definition of universal salvation. And finally, there is today’s scripture from Isaiah – the most convincing of all – in the New Heaven and the New Earth, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Yes, animals in the new heaven and the new earth.
I spent hours researching Sara’s question, but probably all I needed to do was look at the word “animal” itself. The word animal comes from the word anima which means “soul.” There it is in the very meaning of their name. Animals have souls!
For purposes of today, I would like to suggest that heaven is not just a place where we go when we die, but heaven is here right now. Heaven is not just some pie in the sky, bye and bye when we die, but heaven is something sound to the ground while we are still around. Jesus put it this way, “The Kingdom / the Kindom of Heaven is at hand” and some of you in your hands have a slice of heaven.
Our soulful pets are divine. There is a reason why we joke that God spelled backwards is dog. Dogs show unconditional love and acceptance, faithfulness and playfulness. There is a reason why Egyptians worshipped cats, believing cats to be the gateway to the spirit world. There is a reason why the Mesopotamian gods wore horns, ears, and tails of the animals they represented. There is a reason why in the Bible God is referred to as a bull, a lion, a leopard, a bear, a lamb and a dove.
Matthew Fox writes, “God is rainforests, oceans, elephants, polar bears, gazelles, grizzly bears, lions, tigers, fishes, soil, trees, and plants” (Naming the Unnameable, p. 116). God is the “One Face” that is expressed in all the other faces of creation (p. 85).
In answer to Sara’s question, not only do I believe animals go to heaven, but they bring heaven to us here on earth. This morning I invite you to take a moment of silence, gaze into the eyes of the Divine, and feel the love, joy and wonder of heaven on earth. Amen.