We had to put our dog down today. Our little Italian greyhound, Dooty, was seventeen years old, and he had lived a full life. He was a sweet little dog, and he particularly gave my wife a lot of comfort and joy.
Ever since we got back from the vet, I have been weepy. I keep expecting him to chase me around the house, wagging his tail.
But he is not here anymore. Gulp.
It is amazing how we can become so emotionally attached to our pets. Several folks have assured me that our little Dooty is now running around free in heaven. Well, this is surely a well-intentioned thought. But my concern is that while such a thought may provide comfort to my sentiments, it fails to grasp the richness and majesty of biblical teaching.
Admittedly, the Christian Scriptures have very little to say directly about the eternal fate of domesticated animals. C. S. Lewis speculated that we will see our pets in heaven. Perhaps. But Lewis’ reflections in The Problem of Pain also give a deeper insight:
Man is to be understood only in his relation to God. The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God…..The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal – the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy, and it is on the tame animal that we must base all our doctrine of beasts (page 138).
The real value of the animals is that our relationship with them, particularly the tame ones, mirrors the reality of God’s relationship with us as God intended it. Humans are fallen, sinful creatures. Our little Italian greyhound was not. He needed some training along the way, but ultimately he simply sought to be with my wife and I. He never complained. He simply enjoyed being with us. He was always there. He was always very affectionate. I understand that not all animals we try to domesticate are like this. The impact of human sin has its way of corrupting the created order of things. But what a stark contrast to the universal human condition in relation to God, where we continually hide from and evade His holiness.
Animals are not perfect in this life, but along the way they can form the deepest and most affectionate bond. This is how God created us to be to begin with, not entirely perfect, but with some training God would perfect us in due time. God ultimately has had perfection in mind, but tragically, the problem of sin has disrupted this original vision of Creation. Thankfully, God has given us these marvelous creatures around us to remind us of what God intended for you and me. God is not only interested in healing us from our sin. He is also determined to grow, mature and tame us to become all that God originally wanted.
The really wonderful news is that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). The prophet Isaiah gives us this glorious vision of the future: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat” (Isaiah 11:6). Whatever we think of animals in heaven, the Christian vision suggests that the existence of such creatures in the new heavens and new earth will be something we can only vaguely imagine here on this side of the Resurrection.
Will Dooty be there in heaven? Maybe. Maybe not. But my speculation is that there will be some creature there like Dooty that can actually talk. I have always wanted to know what goes on inside a dog’s head. Who knows the status of animals in heaven for sure, but the promise of God’s Word is that it will surely far surpass anything we can dream about or mourn over in this life when we grieve the death of a pet.
Do dogs know the Lord? Well, not exactly in the way humans do, but being without sin they give us a model for what it means to be in right relation to the God who made us all. I know that I will be sad in the coming weeks about our little Dooty dog, but I hope to remember the promise of the new heavens and new earth in the Resurrection. He has great things in store… even for little Italian greyhounds.