A child who had lost a beloved pet asked me not too long ago,
“Will I see him again in heaven?” The tears ran warm down her face, and her eyes held so much uncertainty as they peered up at me.
I am supposed to be a theological scholar, and so I should know these things, right?
I did get her pain, right in the heart, as I have lost many pets, too. I remember as a boy playing with our black lab named Cheerful. I think of the silent slinking of my wife’s ancient, outdoor cat, Panther, who seemed to have a hundred lives. I even smile thinking about our litter-box-trained English long-eared bunny, Bonnie Alice. She lived inside sometimes, on her best behavior, at the coaxing of my daughters. Then she’d eat the couch or something and be sent to the backyard bunny hutch. A small stone bunny in my garden now reminds me of her alabaster softness, and her place in our family.
And there are other animals that I loved. If you are a pet person, you get the love part. You can feel deep love for a living thing. And you get the pain of loss as well. Many pets love us far more unconditionally than the people around us. The loss of a pet is real, the heart-breaking loss of a companion and friend. Never feel bad for feeling bad when you lose a beloved pet.
My answer to her? Will she see her pet in heaven? I gently touched her cheek, bringing my face close:
“I don’t know for sure, but I think so. I know this, honey. The Bible says there are animals in the place where we will live forever. Lion cubs taking naps with lambs, wolves playing with leopards and baby cows. And there are horses in heaven, too, with people riding them. I’m sure many animals will be in heaven, like they were in the original Garden of Eden. Bears and goats and even nice snakes. All kinds of animals, like the perfect zoo. And none of them will bite! Ever!”
“And one more thing–God designed heaven for us to be really happy and never sad. God loves us. He gives lots of good gifts to us when we ask, and he makes all sorts of things for us to enjoy, including pets. If you need your pet to be there in heaven to be happy, then I’m pretty sure God will work it out. He can do amazing things, can’t he? More than we can even imagine!”
Her eyes lit up in joyful surprise, as did the eyes of her parents. The loss remained real, for death is (in all ways) a thief and a cruel enemy. But her hope, and her young faith in a good God, was flourishing. The sting of her pet’s death had begun to fade. With a quick hug, she scrambled off toward some new adventure. Mom hugged me. Her dad even hugged me, too. Hard, but not the least bit awkward. Parents, like our good God, love people who love their kids.
Oh, and if you wonder at my pets in heaven theology (and I might be wrong), read for yourself Isaiah 11:6-11 and 65:25, Psalm 84:11, Matthew 7:11, Romans 8:20-21, 1 Timothy 6:17, Revelation 19 and 21:5. And be open minded. 1 Corinthians 2:9, quoting Isaiah 64:4, reminds us:
“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
these are the things God has prepared for those who love him.”