Why All Dogs Do Go to Heaven

Why All Dogs Do Go to Heaven

My dog has a criminal record. No joke.

When my wife and I moved into our first house, a parsonage on the corner of a busy intersection in the middle of a very small town, we brought two dogs with us. Unbeknownst to us, even though we were surrounded by churches, the neighborhood had some seedy characters who hung around. We saw more than one drug deal go down in the parking lot of the Episcopal church next door.

Often the result was that our dogs found themselves barking and even biting at some people who came near our house. This was a problem for several reasons, but mainly because the clientele of the sidewalk that went by our back yard changed on Sunday mornings from meth-heads to Methodists. There’s nothing like sitting in church and hearing sirens, wondering if your dog is the cause of whatever calamity all those blue and red flashing lights are heading toward.

One time, while funny but not at all a joke, I met a man in a bank parking lot to give him money for a hospital bill so he wouldn’t file a police report on our dogs. We had been warned that one more time would be the last time.

Another time, the aforementioned Episcopal church was having a pet blessing for their members, and the priest came over to our fence to bless our boys. To his credit, he was undeterred by the growling and snapping. He read a simple prayer, made the sign of the cross over them, and threw a little holy water on them. Seemed to do the trick, or at least confuse them, as they sat in a daze for a while after that.

Once, we tried to keep our dogs inside in an upstairs space so they wouldn’t cause any more chaos in the neighborhood or attack another man of the cloth. It was hot the first day we tried that, so we rigged some fans and threw some bean bags chairs up there for them to rest on if they so desired. A couple of hours later I came home to find they had destroyed the makeshift barrier I had made to keep them from entering the house proper, and were on the guest bed literally eating the mail. After putting them out into the yard so I could survey the damage, I found the upstairs had been turned into a nightmarish winter wonderland of sorts. Only instead of ice on the ground there were copious amounts of urine, and the air was filled not so much with snow but with the insides of bean bag chairs now dancing in the wind provided by our numerous electric fans.

So why tell you all this?

Because a few days ago I said goodbye to the second of those two dogs after 15 years. He had gotten old and had trouble walking. A blessing of sorts because he couldn’t get into any trouble I suppose. So we carried him to the car, him snapping at me the whole way because he hated to be carried, took him to the vet, and said our goodbyes.

We laid him on a table, he licked our faces, and we petted him furiously, told him things we wanted him to know, watched as the drugs were administered, and saw the light in his eyes dim and finally disappear.

When I was younger and thought I knew much more than I actually did, I thought it silly when people would talk about animals as if they had a holiness, a divine spark, to them. “That’s reserved for people as given to them by God,” I would say to myself, and internally note that pantheism was not a Christian doctrine [1] with an unbearable amount of self-righteous smugness. Trees don’t have souls. And neither do birds or dogs, and definitely not cats.

But something has happened in the years since. I wouldn’t say I believe trees have souls, per se, but trees sure have a lot to teach me these days when I take a walk. And I don’t think we should start a campaign to baptize all our animals and get them to confess their sins either, but I don’t think I can be as callous as I was then.

Some of this is because my view of heaven changed from an eternal worship service to a vision of a renewed heaven and a renewed earth where all things were made as they were always meant to be. As the Scriptures put it, wolves and lambs will get apartments together, leopards and goats will take naps on the same blanket, cows and bears will write Yelp reviews about their meals together, lions will shop at Whole Foods, and children will stick their hands into a viper’s nest the same way they would a cookie jar. [2]

In his excellent book on heaven, Scot McKnight shines some light on the subject, “Here is one of the big ideas about Heaven: what God makes God perfects, and what God has made for this world will be perfected in the kingdom of God.” [3] McKnight goes on to quote Joni Eareckson Tada who asks why God would throw out some of his “greatest achievements,” the animal kingdom, if he is, in fact, the God who delights in and restores all things.

So I do think dogs go to heaven. As long as you mean the biblical heaven of the renewed heavens and earth. No way my boys could sit through a worship service. And I think that’s what we all really want. It’s why people cried when Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths in 1973, galloping free and fast. Because we sometimes get glimpses of something actually being what it always was meant to be and we say, “That. That seems like the way things are supposed to be. I wish …”

It’s why I’ll cry [4] when my boys, Reuben and Marley, run up to me when all things are made as they should be by our great and glorious God.

In that place, Reuben will be as fast as he always wanted but never could be because his body let him down. And Marley will get his brother back that he left earlier than he wanted.

And we’ll run and jump and play, and they won’t bite any Methodists.

One last thing. Though the stories above are funny and illustrate how hard it is to have a pet from time to time, the good stories outweigh the bad by a metric ton. There is something of heaven in these relationships. We learn from them, and if we pay attention, we feel the love of God in so many ways through them. Not that these things—the love of God for his people and the love of a dog owner for their pet—are in any way equivalent, but like Secretariat flying down the backstretch, we see a glimpse there of something greater, something deeper, something … divine.

Though my boys often did nothing to deserve my love, I loved them. And the fact that they loved me was enough, despite what they did or what they were going to do. Despite their appetite for destruction. Despite their crimes. I couldn’t imagine any kind of heaven without them.

And that’s the way God feels about you.

[1] Pantheism is a belief that the universe and God are essentially one. That there is no separation between created and creator. All things are God. And God is all things.

[2] See Isa. 11:6-8.

[3] The Heaven Promise: What the Bible Says about the Life to Come, 185.

[4] Note that Rev. 21:4 doesn’t say there won’t be tears, but that God will help wipe them away. I imagine a lot of tears will be shed at all the reunions that will happen those first few moments in heaven.

Discipleship or Spiritual Formation? Time to Embrace One and Shelve the Other

Discipleship or Spiritual Formation? Time to Embrace One and Shelve the Other

Prison Isn’t Exactly a Confidence Booster

Prison Isn’t Exactly a Confidence Booster