There’s an interesting turn in Isaiah’s forecast of the new heavens and the new earth. Turns out, it’s not just about having a more beautiful earth and enjoying it without fear or pain or death. It’s actually got some hope for that creature who keeps pooping on your living room floor. And I mean the four-legged creature, not your toddler. (Although there’s hope for him too.)
“The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isa. 65:25)
Now, this is poetry, so it’s a metaphor for the peace that will exist in every sphere of life in the restored creation. But the implications are very real for our furry and feathered friends. There will be lions in the new earth, because there were lions in the old earth, and these lions will somehow be more majestic, more (in the good sense of the word) terrible than before without posing any of the danger that they did before. There will be tigers and bears too—oh my!—but we will coexist with them without fear. Isaiah paints a similar picture here:
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. (11:6)
This is, presumably, what shalom among creatures looked like before the fall, and it is presumably what shalom restored will look like in the new earth. If God made something, you can believe he will remake it. And since death and danger are consequences of mankind’s sin, once sin is vanquished and men are restored, all God’s creatures will enjoy restored relationship with him, with man, and with each other.
We can expect, in fact, that all our animal friends will join us in the new heavens and new earth. Since grace is true, we can assume this includes snakes. And even cats, I guess.
Martin Luther saw the bigness of God’s justifying of sinful mankind in the same way, assuming from the Bible’s testimony about the new earth that if man is justified back into right relationship with God, what was cursed when that relationship was broken will then be restored. When his dog was suffering a particularly noisome barking fit, Martin supposedly preached this gospel implication to him, exhorting the pooch this way: “Never mind, little Hans . . . Thou too, in the Resurrection, shalt have a little golden tail.”
I’m looking at my own dog right now, even as I write this sentence. He is biting his butt. I hope this gets sorted out in the new earth. And I know if our dog could speak his own hopes for the world to come, he will want to not be afraid of thunder. We bought him something called a ThunderShirt, and it only serves to replace his fear with shame. I want to say to him, “Never mind, little Indi. In the resurrection, there will be no more Thunder Shirts.” Maybe there will be no more thunder. But even if there is, I bet our neurotic little Indi will be prancing about in the middle of the rain, proud as a prince in the sunshine.
Maybe you think I’m taking this too far. Certainly there are people who love their pets too much. We can make idols of anything. And yet the affection we tend to have for our pets, and even the respect and awe and curiosity we tend to have for all other animals, seems to be rooted in the relationship God has himself set up between man and beast.
The animals were brought before Adam that he might name them. This connotes his dominion over them but also his relationship with them. Then we get to the second Adam and find him calling himself a shepherd. He says things like, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matt. 12:11) and, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6).
Everything was created to give God glory. When his glory finally crashes into earth in Christ’s return, setting everything back to rights, all of creation will be restored to better than the good it was declared to be in the beginning. In this way, the actual vision God casts for the future of creation is better than the vision many Christians have for heaven. We look forward to a new heavens and a new earth, where the shalom between God and man and beast characterizes the glory-drenched earth once again.
So do all dogs go to heaven?
There, I said it.
No, actually, I don’t know. Animals are not made in God’s image like men and women are. They are fallen by extension of man’s disobedience, not by their own sin, so they are not spoken of in the Scriptures in terms of needing salvation. Jesus did not die for our pets in the same way he died for us. Animals do not have souls in the same sense humans do. So whether our specific pets will be present in the age to come, we cannot say with any certainty. But it does seem that we can say there will be animals in the age to come, because God is planning to restore creation, and that includes animals. If by one man’s disobedience came the curse upon the animal kingdom, then by the sinless obedience of Christ comes the animal kingdom’s blessing.
So to consider what God does with our pets is no little matter. If our pets are so important to us, why could we assume God has not embedded importance in every “little thing” under heaven? He’s embedded importance in everything.
(excerpted from the book The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit Into God's Plan for the World)