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Do Pets Go To Heaven?
by Moira Anderson Allen, M.E.d.
Sooner or later, any discussion of pet loss comes around to this question. You may have asked it yourself -- or, perhaps, you may have wondered how to answer when your child asks it of you. Lengthy articles have been written on both sides of the argument. A recent ABC News poll showed that 47% of pet owners believed the answer was yes (35% said "no").
Christians tend to find this question particularly difficult, because we prefer to base "answers" to any spiritual question on the authority of the Bible. (I say "we" because, yes, I am a Christian, and yes, I have wrestled with this question.) Consequently, most discussions of this question turn into scripture-slinging contests, addressing the issue of whether animals have "souls," can be "redeemed," etc. The problem is, scripture does not offer a definitive answer to this issue.
There is a reason for this; it's not simply God's perverse decision to leave thousands of pet owners in the dark. The reason is that the Bible is about human redemption; it's an instruction manual about the choices humans must make. If pets go to heaven, however, it isn't due to anything you or I do to "get" them there -- so perhaps it is no surprise that the Bible contains no "instructions" on the matter.
Silence does not mean a negative answer, however. The Bible is silent on a great many things, leaving us with a number of questions that we must explore and resolve using the hearts and minds that God gave us -- seeking an answer that is rooted, not in theology and doctrine, but in logic and love.
What I hope to offer here, therefore, is not a "hard answer" to the question, but a framework within which one can choose one's own answer (or from which one can better answer the question when asked by another).
Can Animals Be Saved?
The Christian concept of heaven is inextricably linked with the concepts of salvation, redemption, and resurrection. Christians don't believe that "going to heaven" happens automatically; it's the result of conscious decisions made during one's life. While the Bible is very specific about the requirements for human salvation, it says nothing about salvation for animals. This has led many to assume that, since animals cannot be "saved," they cannot possibly go to heaven.
Another way to look at this question, however, is to recall why the Bible states that redemption is "necessary" for humans. It is because, in scriptural terms, humans are "fallen" beings. Humans have free will, and thus the ability to choose between good and evil. Humans can choose salvation (and heaven), or choose to reject both.
Animals, however, have never "fallen" -- and if one has not fallen, it is not at all clear that the intermediary step of "redemption" is necessary. Animals cannot "choose" between good and evil; when animals behave badly in our homes, it is generally because of a conflict between their God-given natures and our human requirements. Animals have no need to be saved because they are not considered "sinners."
This doesn't mean that we can necessarily assume that because animals have no "sin," they are automatically received into heaven. What it does mean is that the whole issue of "redemption" simply doesn't apply. Whether animals go to heaven or not, the question of "redemption" is not the basis for letting them in -- or keeping them out.