Rolph, named for the "rolph!" sound he made when barking, was my boyhood pet dog. I found the stray puppy outside our home on a spaghetti night and skipped the meal to make a new best friend. He grew up to be a big, lovable part of the family.
With nearly half of the homes in the U.S. having pets according to a 2004 ABCNews/Beliefnet poll, this question is a bone chewed on by many pet lovers. Nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed believe there is a Heaven. When the poll went on to ask if pets also go to Heaven, 43% responded yes, 40% responded no and 17% were undecided.
Many authors and theologians have also chased their tails over this topic. An entire book titled Will My Pet Go to Heaven? has been written, and even the famed Christian writer Randy Alcorn devoted a whole chapter to answering the question in his book Heaven.
Before continuing, let's shift the focus from pets to all animals. We should even include insects, amoebas, bacteria, plants and all other living things to be fair. Just because we make an animal a pet doesn't grant it an exclusive status over the rest of the animal kingdom. So, the question we should be really asking is not whether our pets go to Heaven, but whether every living creature ever created is going to Heaven.
So, what does the Bible say about non-human living creatures going to Heaven? Well, nothing outright.
Supporters of animals going to Heaven look to the picturesque Isaiah 11. "The wolf will live with the lamb... and a little child will lead them" (Isa. 11:6). A scene of peace and tranquility, taken in context, Isaiah is describing a state of harmony during Jesus' upcoming earthly reign. It is not a scene from the afterlife.
Supporters also go to Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. "Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other" (Ecc. 3:19a). Taken in context along with Ecclesiastes 3:11b, "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men," this chapter is describing physical death in a meaningless world and states that mankind alone lives forever past the grave.
If animals were to go to Heaven, that would also beg the question whether animals go to Hell. Would animals that had mauled people, stung babies and killed children go to Hell? What about viruses and diseases, as they are also part of the Creation? My wife has had some parakeets that I'm sure if there was a Hell for animals they'd be there!
The Bible makes these points very clear. Mankind is made special in God's image: "So God created man in his own image" (Gen. 1:27a). Animals are a food source (Gen. 9:3). When sin entered the world, all of creation fell under a death sentence (Gen. 3:14; 6:7; Rom. 8:20). The only reprieve to escape eternal death has been offered to mankind alone through Jesus Christ (Isa. 53:5; Tit. 2:11; Heb. 9:28). And, only the Church experiences the Rapture to become the Bride of Christ (Jn. 14:1-4; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thes. 4:13-18; Rev. 19:7-9).
The Bible clearly indicates that in the very end the Creation will be restored to the condition of the Garden of Eden. It will be filled with animals, possibly even ones based on extinct species or new ones mankind has never seen. Maybe God will even allow some of them to be cared for as pets. But, will Heaven and the New Earth be populated by all the creatures that ever existed, including pets? I don't think the Bible supports such a conclusion.
We do love our animals. But, before you spend another dime on a can of gourmet cat food, remember the third-world child eating dirt. Which does the Lord love more and want you showing His compassion with your time and money? "So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt. 10:31).