I’ve been away all weekend at a retreat with my Jr./Sr. High youth groups. We were in an area where cell phone reception wasn’t that great. My phone spent most of the time searching for a network. So, I shut it off Friday night. Saturday morning I turned it back on and proceeded to send my wife a quick text message when I had a signal. My phone was then bombarded with a plethora of text messages from my wife. The first of the many text messages read:
The # to the camp I have is a fax and you need to call me asap.
Now, keep in mind my wife is 33 weeks pregnant.
The next message I saw was (this was actually the third one I received):
Call me from a land line. It’s really important that I talk to you asap.
The message that I skipped was:
The baby is fine btw, but I really need to talk to you.
Fearing the worst, I hopped in my car and drove down the mountain to where I had one bar of signal. I called my wife, but my phone dropped the call. Cursing, I drove further down the mountain and found a place where I had two solid bars of signal. When I got a hold of my wife, she informed me that earlier in the morning, our cat, Chestnut, had died unexpectedly. Tears were shed because, despite being adopted by McKenzie a few months before we met, Chestnut was my cat. (My wife’s account can be found here.)
Yesterday was the hardest day for me. It was hard coming home to a house without her. It was hard going to bed and not having her by my feet. It was hard waking up this morning and not having her meowing at me to feed her.
This leads to the theological question, what happens to animals, more specifically our pets, when they die? The Bible is silent on this issue, which has led to debate within the Christian community for centuries. I should note, that the views expressed here are my opinion (supplemented with some wise theologians of course).
As we see in Genesis, Creation is only referred to as “very good” at the completion of the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31) Some might say that is because mankind was created on the sixth day and only mankind was created in the image of God. However, it could also mean that the entirety of creation was very good because it was now complete. There was food for man and animal alike and man was given dominion over the animals.
St. Paul writes in Romans:
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. (Romans 8:19-21)
All of creation is subject to the sin of Adam and falls under the curse of Genesis 3. And all of creation, including animals, will be liberated from sin.
Reformers, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Charles Wesley, hold that animals would also be included in the transformation of the world at the end of the age. Luther said:
In Paradise there was complete harmony between man and animals; one day again that harmony will be restored and all creation will be made anew.
This seems consistent with both the Creation account and Isaiah 11:6-10:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
This text can be understood to refer to the time when God brings about the transformation of the world, including a transformation of the animal world. The curse of Genesis 3 is lifted and creation is restored to its original perfection.
Scripture seems pretty clear that all of creation will be transformed and made new at Christ’s second coming and that animals will be included in this transformation.
I don’t know if animals have souls. Pope John Paul II believed they did. I believe they do too.
So, I picture Chestnut perched on a window sill, meeping at the birds as they fly by, waiting for McKenzie and I to join her.
Chestnut was loved in her short life and she is missed. But I take heart, knowing that she is in a better place and cling to God’s promises of a renewed and transformed creation.