All Dogs Do Go To Heaven: A Resurrection Reflection

The end of Lent is nearly a week away and Easter is quickly approaching.  AND did you know that last week – March 23, 2012 – the world celebrated National...

The end of Lent is nearly a week away and Easter is quickly approaching.  AND did you know that last week – March 23, 2012 – the world celebrated National Puppy Day?  Now I know what you’re thinking, what does Easter have to do with puppies?  The simple answer: all dogs go to Heaven.

As we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus we acknowledge the victory accomplished against Sin and Death.  This event is central to our faith as Christians.  Without it we are people to be pitied (1 Cor 15.17-19).  With this event comes massive implications.  Christ has defeated Death, the greatest foe, and reigns over the cosmos as her Lord.  Yet, there are some implications from Christ’s Resurrection that I know many Christians – particularly those in America – have never fully considered.

Now allow me to be frank.  I am not an “animal person.”  I am pretty sure that I will never personally own pets when I have a family (I’d rather have more kids!).  So when I say that I believe that dogs go to Heaven I am not speaking from the perspective of an obsessed dog-lover.  Additionally, I refer to dogs as a synecdoche for all animals.  I believe that all animals will go to Heaven.

This past Summer (2011) our family dog – a miniature Schnauzer named Joey – passed away.  He was the last survivor from his litter and for the last few years of his life he had become blind and deaf.  It was sad to see him deteriorate and pass away, especially for my mother and brother.  They decided to have him cremated so they could pour his ashes in his favorite spot.  I understood the sentiment, but was opposed to the idea.  I think the cremation of humans is more problematic than the cremation of animals, but the problem with cremation is that it stems from a Gnostic framework.  Within this framework the physical world is bad and should be destroyed.  There is no sense of preservation, only destruction.  However, the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) have always placed a major emphasis on proper burials.  As Christians we ought to affirm that God’s creation is good.  Furthermore, by burying the dead we are proclaiming to the world that we believe in the Resurrection.  To be sure, God can overcome cremation; let’s not be mistaken here.  Those who are cremated do not miss out on the Resurrection!  Yet we have a witness to maintain to the world.  We are proclaiming that God is not finished with our bodies.

So then, why did it matter to me whether our dog was cremated?  Because I believe that Joey will be resurrected.

If you were raised like me, your initial response is probably: Wait a second, dogs don’t have souls, they can’t go to Heaven!  Yet this line of thinking misses the most fundamental point about the Resurrection: it is physical.  With the Resurrection of Jesus, God has begun to reclaim his fallen creation.  Christ is the first-fruits, and then every person that ever lived will be resurrected at his coming (some to a resurrection of life and others to a resurrection of death).  Thus, the afterlife isn’t contingent on having souls (as an aside, this is why modern disputes about the existence of the soul carry little importance for me).  We weren’t designed to go to a spiritual/ethereal Heaven.  We were made for this earth.  When humanity is resurrected, all of creation is resurrected alongside.  Note the words of Paul; it is quite clear that when it comes to the resurrection, humans and the rest of creation are in it together:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation thas been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have uthe firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8.19-23 ESV).

This is the goal of all of God’s dealings with humanity.  Sure, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5.8).  This relates to being with God after we die in what theologians call the “Intermediate State.”  But that is not what we were created for and that is not our ultimate destiny.  N. T. Wright has rightly reminded us that the goal of our salvation is not life after death, but rather life after life after death (see esp. Surprised by Hope).  There is a resurrection that follows the “Intermediate State” when we receive glorified bodies.  The cosmos will also be resurrected and glorified, and we will inhabit it forever.  Don’t forget about the Garden of Eden!  God created humanity for a reason: to rule and reign on his behalf over all of his creation (cf. Bryan’s excellent post).  This purpose will not be thwarted by Sin.  At present Christ is reigning over creation as the representative human, but one day all of redeemed humanity will reign over a resurrected cosmos with resurrected bodies (Rev 22.5).  And in the resurrected cosmos there will be resurrected animals.  Though, of course, what I am suggesting is obviously not the same as simply stating that there will be animals in Heaven.  I am going further than this; stating that the animals that lived on this earth will be in Heaven.  God will not create new animals ex nihilo for Heaven. The days of creation are past, what lies ahead is resurrection.

The Resurrection of Jesus is the promise of our salvation.  And it is the proof that all dogs do go to Heaven.

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Categories
Eschatology
John Anthony Dunne

John is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of St Andrews working under Prof. NT Wright.
22 Comments on this post.

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  • Carolyn Thomas
    27 March 2012 at 11:53 am

    I loved this–because I love animals (especially dogs!), but also because it rings with such robust theological truth. So glad of all that we have to look forward to in the Resurrection!

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  • Ryan Brown
    27 March 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Interesting thoughts John. While reading I was reminded of CS Lewis’ discussion of this same topic in his book The Problem of Pain in the chapter title Animal Pain. He concludes the opposite and bases it on 3 questions: what do animals suffer, how did disease and pain enter the animal world, and how can animal suffering be reconciled with the justice of God. I don’t know if you are familiar with that but it’s a very convincing discussion, as is yours, but I do hope to see my dogs in heaven!

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      27 March 2012 at 2:03 pm

      Ryan, thanks for your comments. I’m not surprised that Lewis concludes the opposite as I did since he at times tends to downplay new creation/new earth. Some might say this is due to the influence of Platonic thought on his Christian worldview (As with Plato’s forms, in The Great Divorce Lewis depicts the heavenly realm as ‘more real’ than the shadowlands=earth). I haven’t read that book of his, but I’ll definitely take a look at it. Thanks for notifying me about it.

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  • Kathleen Deuel
    27 March 2012 at 6:03 pm

    John, Great to see this article as I totally agree. When I lost my dog Cosmo, I did a biblical study on this and read and read on it. I also compiled articles of animals saving their masters lives and grieving at their masters graves. I underline a passage at church whenever I see one that points to this conclusion. There is no doubt in my mind. I adore C.S. Lewis writing and I think he may not have experienced the great love of a dog. It was in finding the love of his wife that he learned so much about loss of a human life. I was helped so much through grief by some of his writings when he lost her. According to a preaching that John Wesley gave in 1781, he taught that animals did go to Heaven.
    Afterall, the animals groan on this earth due to our sin and our fallen nature…
    Randy Alcorn states in his book Heaven that according to Romans 8:21-23 that it assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity’s resurrection.
    Also I have read that animals NOT going to Heaven is a newer teaching of the more recent Christian faith, not of the older Christian belief. Thank-You for your article and I am sorry for the loss of your dog as they are an amazing creation. God is good.

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      27 March 2012 at 7:30 pm

      Mrs. Deuel, thanks so much for your comment! I think you’re right about Lewis. I recently just watched a performance of Shadowlands here at St Andrews. Its a very powerful play and his writings on suffering and grief are well worthwhile, though I think he has missed the full implications of the resurrection in regards to animals and the nature of the new creation, which is essentially this cosmos resurrected. Thanks again for commenting! I hope you are doing well!

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      • Robert
        24 December 2013 at 1:10 am

        Mr. Dunne,

        Thank you for your post concerning the Resurrection of animals in the refashioned and restored creation.
        Being Eastern Orthodox I have seen far more positives concerning this than negatives from Orthodox theologians. Fr. John Breck, Fr. Lev Gillet, Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. Thomas Hopko are either positive or utterly dogmatic that ALL of God’s Creation will be restored, except for those humans who reject Him.

        C.S. Lewis DID believe that animals of higher sentience would be resurrected – read “The Great Divorce”, chapter 12 about The Lady with all the animals.

        Lewis was Celtic Orthodox.

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  • Carrie Allen
    28 March 2012 at 4:51 am

    Two things happened for me from this post. One, I feel better about confessing that I am also not an “animal person”. In fact, my parents recently bought a new dog, and though he is cute, ever since I have been home he has been driving me crazy! I used to feel bad saying this… but not anymore! Two, you just changed my views on cremation. And I never thought that would happen.

    As usual, great writing!

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      30 March 2012 at 9:19 am

      I changed your mind on cremation? Really? What did I say that pushed you over the edge?

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      • Carrie Allen
        23 July 2012 at 4:12 am

        Well, I guess I am a dog person. I didn’t realize how much so until I lost my family dog on Friday :( I still don’t like my sisters new dog very much 😉 but I sure do miss my Max. So thankful for this article during this hard time.

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  • Brad
    29 March 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Love the post! Thanks for the great comments on cremation. I’ve never liked the practice and I’ve heard there were good reasons the church was historically against it. I think you bring those reasons out very well.

    I, too agree about the idea of resurrection extending to the animal kingdom. This will be a great post to share with those “animal people” (which I likewise, am not).

    The only problematic thing I see is the secondary comment which suggests you’re ambivalent about the existence of a soul. I do like how you have pointed out away around the current debates regarding physicalism–that in essence you can be a physicalist and maintain an orthodox view of the resurrection.

    However, I am not sure the resurrection is the only reason to hang on to substance dualism (or something like that). It’s always seemed to me that Jesus believed in a non-material “soul” as he references in Matthew 10:28. Also isn’t he committing his “spirit” to the Father. (I’m not sure if it’s pneuma in both places but that’s my guess.)
    The only reason I bring this up is I’ve just been reading Wright’s newest “How God Became King” and his warning about leaving out bits of the gospels and emphasizing others has led to historical blunders. Here I wonder if, you and others are wonderfully refocusing our attention to a proper understanding of “resurrection” and reclaiming the physical-ness of it. But couldn’t that be carried too far where we forget that “God is a Spirit” and ,provided we don’t become platonists, we can celebrate that aspect of our essence too (c.f. Genesis 2:7 Adam seems to me to be dust and breath and isn’t complete without the other)? So should we try to hold both aspects together without ignoring either?

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      30 March 2012 at 9:31 am

      Brad thanks for your comment. In regards to the soul I just wanted to make it clear that the afterlife is not about a ‘soulish’ existence. Additionally, my comment about the modern disputes it that I think Christians might place too much stock into these debates. My response to atheists who argue for the non-existence of the soul is that the issue is irrelevant for religion generally and Christianity in particular. When you recognize the priority of the resurrection you notice that arguments against the existence of the soul – from a naturalistic perspective – do not undermine the Christian faith. I just think we need to get our doctrinal priorities straightened out. The Resurrection is far more central. But I do believe in the soul, hence my comments about the Intermediate State. Although I know I could be convinced – biblically as opposed to scientifically/philosophically – in the non-existence of the soul. Jews by and large were psychosomatic monists and the OT seems fairly straightforward as the physical nature of their worldview. They speak of mind, soul, heart, spirit, etc… without necessarily speaking of an immaterial component to anthropology (or even multiple immaterial components!). I say this only to suggest that the Bible isn’t explicit about the existence of the immaterial in regards to the human make-up. Nancy Murphy and Joel Green, for instance, have argued biblically for anthropological monism. I’m not fully persuaded of their position either, but at the end of the day I consider the implications. Basically, the Christian has nothing to fear in regards to the debates regarding the existence of the soul. This neither proves nor disproves Christianity. The focus is on the Resurrection and thats what the afterlife is all about. (Though to be clear: I do believe in a soul!) Does that make sense? So I don’t disagree with you, I’m just thinking through implications and want Christians to recognize what’s most important.

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  • Janet Lawrence
    30 March 2012 at 5:17 am

    I recall teaching a Sunday School class when the question came up in a room of 8-11 year olds. It, like so many other questions always stretched and caused me to spend endless hours looking for the answer late into the night. More often than not, these gray areas were always brought up by non other than Johnny Dunne. Praise God that you were able to discover for yourself the answer that I was unable to give you at that time.

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      30 March 2012 at 9:33 am

      Thanks for reading my blog! I definitely don’t remember that particular incident, but I imagine my view at the time was that animals don’t have souls so when they die they are gone forever. My emphasis on new creation and the resurrection really got amped up in college and now my position has changed remarkably.

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  • The Parable of the Janitor, Ecology, & Creation Care | The Two Cities
    3 April 2012 at 10:56 am

    […] All Dogs Do Go To Heaven: A Resurrection Reflection […]

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  • John Frederick
    4 April 2012 at 3:29 am

    Dude, if you are right on this, then I’m looking forward to seeing some awesome Dinosaurs in the new Earth. I could totally picture swooping around on a Pterodactyl.

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  • Emily Ballard
    6 April 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Wonderful post! I found this really interesting and eye-opening. Just curious–what are your thoughts on organ donation?

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      6 April 2012 at 12:35 pm

      Emily thanks for your comment as well as your question about cremation. I’ll be honest, I haven’t given that much theological thought. My initial response is that the Christian thing to do is to be a donor since you have a great opportunity to aid others with your organs (which you don’t need anymore). Of course, we could get silly and think about the possibilities of resurrection when bits of my body has been spliced up and placed into 20 different bodies (and then compound this with the possibility that not all attain the resurrection to life), but this of course will not be a problem for God. Its similar to my point about cremation, God can overcome it but the witness to the world is what is important. Thus, I think we can conclude that organ donations are the Christian thing to do and maintain a good witness to the world. But I really haven’t considered this much. Do you have thoughts on the matter?

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  • Michelle
    7 April 2012 at 4:01 am

    I love this article. I have long believed this, and you articulated it so beautifully. :)

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    • John Anthony Dunne
      John Anthony Dunne
      7 April 2012 at 4:30 am

      Thanks for your comment Michelle!

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  • Sex and Eschatology Revisited | The Two Cities
    10 May 2013 at 2:41 am

    […] Parable of the Janitor” to articulate why Christians should be concerned with ecology, “All Dogs Do Go to Heaven” to offer a vision of the restoration of the entire created order (that is, not just […]

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  • Foreigners On Other Planets | The Two Cities
    21 October 2014 at 3:16 am

    […] of redemption is cosmic in scope and includes the restoration of the animal order (see my blog post All Dogs Do Go To Heaven), and so theologically there is no reason to make such bald statements about the redemption of […]

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  • Charles Savoie
    4 January 2015 at 5:26 pm

    The best we can do for a person or pet is to respect their remains by burying them as is, cremation is a disrespect to the body. TIME rather than deliberate human action is supposed to cause “ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” we know that bones can remain intact for very long stretches of time.

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