Saturday, January 16, 2010

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Peaceable Kingdom , no.5  [Isaiah11:6-8]
by Geoffrey Thulin - mixed media, 2004

Occasionally during my years of ministry, people would quite seriously ask me this theological question: Will my dog (or cat) be in heaven? American humorist Will Rogers said,“If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.’ Writer James Thurber said, “If I have any beliefs about immortality, it is that certain dogs I have known will go to heaven, and very, very few persons.”

In Dante’s Paradiso, Beatrice guides Dante through nine concentric circles of heaven, each one closer to God. In the eighth circle of heaven are humans, and in the final sphere are the angels. Not an animal in sight. But in John’s Revelation, animals inhabit the area closest to God’s throne. “And in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back.” (4:6 NKJV) Peterson’s translation calls them animals: “Prowling around the Throne were Four Animals, all eyes. Eyes to look ahead, eyes to look behind. The first Animal like a lion, the second like an ox, the third with a human face, the fourth like an eagle in flight.” (4:6-7 The Message)

When I answer the question of pets in heaven I always refer people to the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah, “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.” (Isaiah 11:6) I picture the New Earth as a sort of Jurassic Park inhabited by every species that has ever existed in the history of the planet. Climate change may make species extinct, but they are not forgotten by God.

But to get back to John’s Revelation … animals are closest to God. Closer than humans, even closer than angels in John’s vision. According to John they are “in the midst of the throne, and around the throne.” I see them sitting on God’s lap and nudging him.

When I have my private devotions each day, my cat Pepper often comes to visit me. It seems he is attracted to my posture of sitting quietly cross-legged on the floor. While I try to be attentive to the Spirit of God, my cat will rub his neck against my hands and knees, and even place his front paws on my chest with his face as close as he can get to my face. I will oblige him with a scratch under the chin, and eventually he will settle down to have his quiet time next to me. His purring sets the backdrop for my prayer and meditation. Likewise God keeps pets around his throne.

God’s creation – every animal he has so lovingly created – is near to the heart of God. The closer we come to God’s creatures, the closer we come to God. That is why people who cannot stomach the church or church people can so readily experience the divine when in the woods among God’s creation. I confess that even though I have been a pastor for thirty-three years, my times of most sublime intimacy with God have not been in a church but in the mountains, by a stream or at the ocean. When I get up from my prayers and look out my bedroom window and see deer in our backyard, I know I am near to the throne of God.

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