"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."
Last Saturday evening, my wife, Janet, and I streamed Tom Hanks’ movie A Man Called Otto. We had been wanting to see it for quite some time. It was a bit sad at first to see Hanks’ character struggling with the death of his wife, but the movie became a poignant and tender reminder of how much we need each other to walk through lives that can often be plagued by pain. At one point in the movie, Otto begrudgingly befriends a stray cat—a sweet moment. Then, yesterday, I was talking with a member of my congregation about cats and dogs—and how much we each love animals like these. The combination of the two experiences in close sequence led me to the decision to share this unique devotional reflection today.
Very many of us have given our hearts to our pets for most of our lives. This emotional commitment naturally leads to a serious question for many people: "Will animals be in heaven?" Let's examine the Scripture, the authority for the Christian, and see if we can come up with an answer. In the book of Revelation, chapter 21, the Lord revealed to the apostle John, the writer of this New Testament book, a picture of the coming victory and reign of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. In verse one, John writes that he saw a new heaven and a new earth because "the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." It is significant that the picture God gives John of heaven is that it is not some place faraway in the clouds where angels are playing their harps, but rather it is right here on earth where all creation is transformed and renewed. In this vein, in my second devotional book, A Light That Guides, I wrote about what heaven might be like based on where God placed the human race originally (and intended them to remain apart from sin), a garden called Eden. Adam and Eve were surrounded by animals there. Check out this devotional (#5 in the book) if you want to read more; you can contact me for a book or order it right here on this website.
The apostle Paul similarly tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, that our resurrection bodies will not be some ethereal, ghostly forms but a transformed, renewed body with physical attributes. We know this because, after His resurrection, Jesus' body could be touched by others and he ate food with his disciples. Paul says our earthly bodies are the seeds for the heavenly body of splendor we will receive after we are resurrected in and with Christ, assuming we have surrendered our lives to Him. All of this discussion of the tangible aspect of our heavenly bodies and the fact that the site of heaven will be our "new earth" leads me to believe that all of creation will be renewed and transformed with us, including animals.
In the book of Romans, chapter 8, beginning in verse 22, Paul writes that "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." The reason for the groaning is that nature has suffered the curse of sin right along with all human kind. Plants and animals all die--the wages of sin. Not that the plants and animals have sinned; they are not capable of that because they have no independent will. But they suffer the penalties of the sin you and I commit by decaying and dying. Does it not therefore make sense that animals and plants will also be found in the new heaven and the new earth, free of the curse they have inherited from us. When Jesus returns to ultimately vanquish sin, death and the evil one, He will be riding a white horse. That is a clear example of an animal existing beyond the end of this age when "heaven was standing open." (Revelation 19:11) Likewise, in his end of the age prophecy, chapter eleven, verse 6, Isaiah mentions the presence of a wolf, a lamb, a leopard, a goat, a calf, a lion and a yearling—all living together in peace and harmony under the rule of Christ. This reference could be metaphorical rather than literal imagery, but it is significant that the Lord uses animals to communicate what heaven will be like.
Just a thought now apart from biblical support. Does it not make sense that the Lord would place in heaven those things that have brought us so much earthly joy? Why would God not include in His new heaven and new earth all of the wonderful animals that display God's creativity and beauty—and whom we have grown to treasure? I have learned a lot about unwavering affection from our beloved pet dog, Keelie. (She is the crazy looking canine at the beginning of this reflection, a Shih Tzu-Bichon mix.) And before Keelie, our sweet Bichon Frise Simon captured our hearts with his faithfulness and loyalty. How could it be that creatures who have displayed such "godly" attributes would be missing from the next age? I can't imagine a heaven without the animals so many of us love. It is significant to me that when C.S. Lewis wrote his wonderful trilogy of books for children (and adults) called The Chronicles of Narnia, he placed talking animals in his Narnian world, the world Lewis likened to heaven allegorically. And of course, the Lord himself was represented in Lewis' tale as a lion named Aslan.
But what about fruit flies? Insert all of those insects or "creepy crawlies" that none of us appreciate. We call them pests. Will they be in heaven? And, in fact, why did God even put them on earth? Were flies part of the fall of man or did they predate sin in the Garden of Eden? I am not sure of the answer to any of these questions, but I am happy to report that I am not the only person who has ever wondered about the place these creatures occupy in God's creation. Read the following words written by St. Augustine, the early church bishop from North Africa. "To be truthful, I myself fail to understand why God created mice and frogs, flies and worms. Nevertheless, I recognize that each of these creatures is beautiful in its own way. For when I contemplate the body and limbs of any living creature, where do I not find proportion, number, and order exhibiting the unity of concord? Where one discovers proportion, number, and order, one should look for the craftsman." In other words, Augustine saw God in the "intelligent design" of His creation.
Heavenly Father, thank You for all of Your creation, especially all of the animals who display Your creativity and splendor. We are very grateful for the affection and joy we receive from the pets You have allowed us to enjoy. And we are longing for the time we will walk the new heaven and the new earth, worshiping You and delighting in all of the creation you will have renewed for our pleasure. Cause us to be faithful to You, falling more and more in love with You, as we move toward that day. In Jesus' Name, Amen.