It happened again last weekend. I got asked a theological question that weighs on people. Do dogs (and cats, or for that matter pet gerbils) go to heaven?
The Bible doesn't say, but many Christians have quietly and sadly assumed the proper theological answer must be "no." Part of this comes from the simple fact that in the Bible, humans and animals are clearly in different categories of God's good creation. As humans, we bear the image of God in a way that animals do not (Genesis 1.26). But at least as much of this thinking comes from the Enlightenment philosophical systems of thinkers like René Descartes. He grounded "being" in thinking to such an extent ("I think, therefore I am" cogito ergo sum) that he saw anyone and anything with less than a completely developed human mind as merely a biological robot.
C.S. Lewis offers another perspective, not just in his talking animals in Narnia, but also in "The Great Divorce," where he describes a powerful saint in heaven. She enters, surrounded by angels and all the people she touched by her holy life.
Lewis goes on, "And how... but hullo! What are all these animals? A cat - two cats - dozens of cats. And all these dogs... why, I can't count them. And the birds. And the horses..."
"They are her beasts."
"Did she keep a sort of zoo? I mean, this is a bit too much,"
"Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over to them."
Is this how it is for our animals? I don't know, and as he would readily admit, neither did C.S. Lewis. There are also all kinds of things Lewis didn't address or have an answer for (What about wild animals? What about farm animals?) But the picture he gives is simple enough as far as it goes. Just as we are fully and eternally who we are created to be not because we think (pace Descartes), but because we accept God's love through Jesus Christ, so our pets may receive that same sort of life-giving love from us as part of our dominion over them given to us in Genesis chapter 1.
It's what I think about when I decide how to treat our dog, Copper Agamemnon Frank (pictured above in all his glory), and also why we do things like offer to bless your pets this coming Saturday (8-10am 13541 Point Pleasant Dr. in Chantilly). Our love for our animals matters, and may even matter more than we know.