Do dogs go to Heaven when they die?
My oldest daughter, Eve asked me this question on our way to the bus stop one morning. She was about 7 or 8 years old at the time and we were living in Georgia. I was carrying Emma in my arms as we were heading down the hill to the corner where the bus would come and take her to school when the question popped out. “Do dogs go to Heaven when they die?” I wasn’t completely surprised. Just the night before, we found out the cute little dog across the street got hit by a car and didn’t survive so I’m sure it was on her mind. That’s probably how most kids first start to wonder about “what happens next.” The loss of a pet, or in this case a neighbor’s pet, starts us down that path. But the number of questions only grow as we get older. I remember when I was eight years old and my grandmother died, my mom told me she had gone to Heaven and the first question I had in mind was, “How do you get there?” Did she catch a bus? How did she know where to go? Can I go visit? Especially when we are younger, life is pretty literal and I was looking for concrete answers about a topic that had none. I went to quite a few funerals when I was a child and each one left me with more questions than answers.
But every question we ask about death revolves around one central question:
What happens after we die? It’s a question that stays with us because there are so few people who can tell us the answer. Jesus is the leading authority about it and even he didn’t share much about what it was like. Lazarus never said a word. Elijah and Moses only came back to powwow with Jesus and didn’t spill the beans. The disciple John had a tremendous vision of God and life in the spiritual world, an experience he wrote down in what would become the book of Revelation. But that book is also the most difficult and confusing book in the Bible. John was trying to put into words something that defies explanation – concepts and images that go beyond human understanding. Now, every once in a while we hear amazing stories like that of Colton Burpo, the young boy whose life was the basis for the movie and the book Heaven is for Real. And reading stories like that give us hope and allow us to point to something and say, “At last there’s something tangible to hold on to.” But for every story like Colton’s you can read stories about people who have come back and experienced nothing but darkness and coldness, emptiness and solitude and that puts us right back where we started.
We’ve tried to prove or disprove the existence of an afterlife using logic and reason.
Which seems weird since logic and reason are based on our knowledge and experience and we simply don’t have enough of either when it comes to the hereafter. But most of these arguments revolve around the existence of God, because if we can prove God exists, it logically follows that all the rest of it is true, including the afterlife. On the other hand, some atheists like to use evolution as an argument against the existence of God which doesn’t make sense because evolution and God are not contradictory beliefs. So it’s ironic that one of the best arguments FOR God comes from an atheist. You probably don’t know the name Fred Hoyle, but you probably do know the theory of creation he coined – The Big Bang Theory (not to be confused with the TV show of the same name). Interestingly, Hoyle didn’t believe in the Big Bang Theory. Nor did he believe in evolution as Darwin had originally posited. Instead he believed in intelligent design, a concept that something greater than ourselves must have guided the development or even creation of humanity. He didn’t believe in God as we understand God, and might be offended to hear his argument being used in God’s defense. But what he said in defending intelligent design was, “The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way (through evolution) is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” That’s how infinitesimally small the odds are of human beings ever being created simply by chance.
One doctor tried to prove the human body had a soul by weighing patients as they died.
Dr. Duncan MacDougall posited the theory that human beings have souls and that it could be proved at the point of death. He took six dying patients and weighed them right before death and immediately afterward and he claimed that after the body had ceased functioning, the human body suddenly lost weight that could not be accounted for by normal means. He said that through his experiments, he calculated that the human soul weighs ¾ of an ounce or as it is more popularly known today: 21 grams. 21 grams, Dr. MacDougall said, was how much the soul weighed. But the truth is his results over this incredibly small sample varied widely and none of them had a consistency of weight loss. Just one person recorded an actual loss of 21 grams and the rest had completely different results. But MacDougall’s efforts is testimony to our desire to learn about the afterlife.
Scholars have poured over the Bible to find clues to what we can expect when we die.
Jesus tells us that in Heaven God has a house with many rooms and that there is a room reserved there for each of us who believe in Him. John tells us that when God creates the New Jerusalem at the end of the age that it will have streets of gold and walls of jasper and foundations made of gemstones. But for me, my favorite image in the Bible comes from Revelation 7:9-12. The passage we’re reading is from John’s vision of the end of days before the creation of the New Heaven and New Jerusalem. Now this isn’t an image of the New Heaven, but an image of what John sees as we approach the day of final judgment when God will determine what happens to each of us. And even though this isn’t exactly an image of the New Heaven, to me this is a glimpse of what we can expect when we get there.
9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”
This is often how I imagine Heaven to be.
Filled with people of every type from every nation. A multitude of every race, color, gender, age, and size. A crowd so large they cannot be counted. A place where all of God’s children live in unity with one another. And I think the reason we debate so much about what Heaven looks like and how you get there and what we can expect is because we are not sure if we are going to be in that great multitude. Our beliefs about Heaven are often exclusive to our belief in God. Catholics believe that it is a combination of faith and good works that earn you a place in Heaven. Mormons believe that Heaven consists of three levels and that only believers of the Mormon faith get into the best level to be with God. And Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it all doesn’t matter. God has already picked out the 144,000 that will be joining him and too bad for the rest of humanity. Presbyterians and other Calvanist faiths believe that we are predestined. And so the debate about who is right becomes more important than ever because it involves our eternal destiny. That’s why we worry so much about this stuff. But maybe instead of worrying about how to get into Heaven we should focus instead on living a life that honors Christ.
Sometimes we focus on the wrong things.
If we really want to get into Heaven the last thing we should be worrying about is getting into Heaven. Because worrying about it won’t get us there. There isn’t some magic formula where if you do “X” number of good things you get in. There isn’t some cosmic scale of justice that says if our total good guy points outweigh our bad guy points, we’re in. The only thing that truly matters is our heart for God. Just listen to the words of Jesus himself. He told his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The solution is simple. Put God first. Trust in God and free yourself from worry. The rest will fall into place on its own.
Harvey West is one of the best pastors I know.
He was my senior pastor when I was attending Alpharetta First UMC back in Georgia and I was fortunate enough to take a Bible study class with him. During that class one of the people asked, “How do you know you are saved?” And Harvey said, “I don’t.” That stunned all of us right there. But then he continued. “But I have faith in God and in his Son Jesus Christ. And I believe that faith will save me. And so I don’t worry about it. Instead I focus on trying to live a life that best honors Christ’s sacrifice for me.” Those words have continued to guide me every day of my life and I hope they guide yours as well. And as for the question, “Do animals go to Heaven?” I think they do. When we read the Scripture we hear from God through the prophet Isaiah that “the wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” If God will provide space for the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox, and even the serpent, surely my former neighbor’s dog is resting comfortably somewhere up there waiting for his human. But either way, I trust in God enough to believe that God knows best and that no matter what my vision of Heaven or how we get there, God’s vision will always be better.