A reader named Grace submitted this Spiritual Conundrum to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life:
I lost my 12 year old Lab to brain Cancer last summer. I miss him terribly. Will we see our pets again in heaven?
Thanks for your question, Grace. I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your dog.
Pets become members of our family—each with a unique personality. However, most pets have shorter lifespans than we humans do. The companionship and joy of sharing our lives with animal friends is tinged with a time of loss and grieving when their lives come to an end.
Death is a natural and inevitable event for all living beings on earth. For our human friends and family, we have the hope and assurance that we will see them again when it comes our time to die (see “What Happens To Us When We Die?”).
Can we have the same hope and assurance of seeing our pets in the afterlife?
Well . . . I have good news, and I have bad news.
First, the bad news: From a Christian perspective, animals do not have eternal souls.
But here’s the good news: That doesn’t mean we won’t see our pets in heaven.
Let’s take a closer look.
Animals do not have eternal souls
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.
It would certainly be more popular among animal-lovers to say that animals have eternal souls. However, from a Christian perspective, while animals do have souls, their souls are not eternal, as human souls are.
Animals do have souls. Without souls they could not be alive. Our body is not alive by itself. Rather, it is our soul that lives within our body, and gives life to our body. When we die, what actually happens is that our soul leaves our body. Without the soul to give it life, our body is as dead as a doornail. It’s just a very complex piece of organic matter that soon decomposes and is reabsorbed into the earth.
Animals, too, must have souls in order to be alive. When they die, their souls, too, leave their bodies. However, unlike human souls, they do not go on to a conscious existence in the spiritual world. Instead, they are reabsorbed into the spiritual ecosystem just as their bodies are reabsorbed into the material ecosystem.
Animal souls vs. human souls
Why the difference between animal souls and human souls?
Animal souls consist only of the lowest level of spiritual reality. This level has to do with taking care of basic physical and psychological needs such as food, water, shelter, reproduction, and the companionship and protection of the group in social animals. Animals need these external, earth-oriented spiritual levels so that they can go about their daily lives seeking and obtaining what they need to continue living and perpetuate their species.
Human souls add the higher, more spiritual and heavenly levels of spiritual reality. These levels give us:
- The ability to think rationally and consider not only different possible courses of action, but their various moral, ethical, and spiritual implications.
- The spiritual freedom to make moral, ethical, and spiritual choices, such as whether we will act from love and concern for our fellow human beings or act only for our own advancement and pleasure.
- The ability to think about God and the spiritual world, and make goals that involve more than satisfying material and social needs. We humans are able to direct our life according to the will of God as we understand it, and to act for the eternal wellbeing of ourselves and our fellow human beings.
These are all things that lower animals simply can’t do.
And these are precisely the things that make human souls eternal. In particular, our ability to form a conscious relationship with God is what makes our soul eternal. Even if we choose to reject our relationship with God, the fact that we have the ability to do so means that a human being’s soul will never cease to exist as a conscious, self-aware being.
Animals do not have spiritual freedom or rationality, and cannot even think about God, let alone form a relationship with God. Their souls are focused on the things of this earth, not on the things of heaven. That’s why their conscious existence is limited to this earth. In a sense, this earth is their heaven.
Of course, there are other points of view. For example, most Eastern religions include the idea of reincarnation. Sound good, pet-lovers? Unfortunately, if reincarnation did happen as popularly believed, and the soul of Tiger or Buster continued on, it would be as a whole different animal. The pet you loved would no longer exist. (About reincarnation, see “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation.”)
Okay, that’s the bad news. You may not want to hear it, but it’s better to speak the truth as I understand it. Of course, you’re free to make up your own mind what to believe. Nobody’s going to heaven or to hell because of what they believe about pets in heaven!
Now let’s move on to the good news.
Despite what I’ve said so far, things aren’t so bleak for those who have loved and lost pets.
There are animals in heaven
Here is the first piece of good news: Just because animals don’t have eternal souls, that doesn’t mean there are no animals in heaven.
All of the animals we see here on earth also exist in the spiritual world—and many more that don’t even exist here!
- In heaven, there are all sorts of beautiful and gentle animals, birds, and fish.
- In hell, there are all sorts of frightful and vicious animals, birds, and fish.
- In the “world of spirits” between heaven and hell, there is a mix.
However, the animals in the spiritual world are not the souls of animals who have died on earth. Instead, they are reflections and expressions of the thoughts and feelings of the (human) spirits and angels who live in the various areas of the spiritual world.
The reason heaven contains beautiful and gentle animals is that they reflect and express the state of mind of the people there. Different angels and communities of angels will have different animals because angels, like people on earth, are different from one another.
For the same reason, hell contains frightful and vicious animals because they reflect the state of mind of the evil spirits there. In fact, from a distance, evil spirits themselves often look like fierce, predatory animals—because that’s exactly what they are like in character and personality.
In short, the animals in the spiritual world do not come from the material world. Instead, they come into being in the spiritual world based on the thoughts and feelings of the people there.
In heaven we are surrounded by what we love
Here is the second piece of good news: In heaven we will be surrounded by the people, objects, scenery, and everything else that we love.
It’s not that we “create our own reality” as the popular New Age meme has it. What really happens is that God creates surroundings for us that express everything we love and everything we think. In the spiritual world, we inhabit the world of our own mind and heart—and of the minds and hearts of the other people in our community.
- If you love the big city, you’ll live in a bustling city full of different people and ideas.
- If you love wide open spaces, you’ll live on an open plain with big horizons.
- If you love the mountains, there will be plenty of mountains all around.
- If you love the ocean, you’ll live near, or even on, a vast ocean.
The reason for this is not only to give you happiness and pleasure. It is also that the things we love reflect the type of person we are. Cities, wide open spaces, mountains, oceans . . . these all reflect different human states of mind and heart. And the spiritual world is the world of the human mind and heart.
Will we see our pets again in heaven?
Now perhaps you can answer for yourself the question of whether you will see your pets in heaven.
Do you love your pet? Does your pet’s personality reflect some of your own thoughts and feelings? Do you feel a kinship with your pet? Have you and your pet shared enjoyable experiences together that you still carry in your heart?
I am confident that those who love their pets dearly will see them again in heaven.
It’s not that your pet has died and gone to heaven. It’s that you hold your pet in your heart, with strong feelings of love and companionship. Everything of your pet’s character is recorded in your mind and heart—and also in the mind and heart of God.
And I believe that in heaven, God will provide us with everything we love, and everything that makes us happy.
However . . . I have put Annette on notice that it will not be okay for all of the dozens of cats and dogs that she has owned and loved in her lifetime to sleep on the bed with us in heaven!
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.
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