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 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.