Do Dogs Go to Heaven?

Pope Francis angered animal lovers everywhere with comments he made a few months ago.  He was talking about the need to be more attentive to families living in poverty.  The angry reaction came when he pointed out how much more time, attention, and money we devote to our pets than to the needs of the poor, especially children.     

While the Pope loves animals, while he regularly emphasizes that they are a beautiful part of God’s good creation, he was merely trying to stress the obvious: Human beings have a far greater, God-given dignity.  As such, they deserve to be treated with greater respect.  Pope Francis wasn’t telling people to stop loving their pets; just to give human beings living in poverty as much, if not more, attention and respect.  While his point seemed benign, the backlash was fierce and furious.    

Along with the Pope, however, many other commentators have made the same point: We spend more money on our pets than millions across the world have to live on.  Our pets are better fed than a sixth of the people living on the planet.  They are better nourished than a sixth of the children of the world.  In fact, the biggest challenge most of us have with our pets is that they have too much food.  Many are overweight.  The only thing they need more of is exercise!  In addition, our pets often receive better healthcare than most of these children living in poverty do.  The Pope finds this unacceptable.  Despite being an ardent dog lover, so do I.

Growing up, there was nothing like the unconditional love our dogs gave us.  Whenever we returned home, they would greet us with more excitement than a broke person who just won the Mega-millions in the Lottery, smothering us for several minutes nonstop with sloppy, wet kisses every time we walked through the door.  Watching them go apoplectic whenever we announced we were going to take them for a walk and then sprinting down the street with them only to stop every fifty feet so that, in an act of unbridled enthusiasm, they could do a (hysterically cute) nose plant into some shrubbery or flower with the single-mindedly focused goal of snorting in every possible delectable odor said greenery offered, remains one of my favorite memories.  Playing “football” with them in the front yard provided hours of endless entertainment--my best friend’s dog was actually smart enough to know where the line of scrimmage was and then to wait for the “hike” signal before picking up the Nerf football we used and run toward the endzone in an attempt to successfully evade our defensive stand, which he usually did.  The affection our dogs showed was utterly genuine, the purest kind.  Their loyalty, enthusiastic and ever-abiding.  Their companionship, more dependable than most of the human beings in my life. 

In fact, the love they showed us provided me with a glorious glimpse into the unconditional love of God I would later discover during my college years.  “Dog” is “God” spelled backwards, after all!  But as much as my dogs meant to me growing up, as much affection, loyalty, and companionship as they provided, I was acutely aware that they couldn’t fill the need I had for a deeper love.  For one thing, I knew that my relationship with my best friend, though not always as easy, was far more meaningful.  And my greatest desire at the time was to find a girlfriend--to fall in love--which, at the time, was the best experience I could imagine.  Even though my dogs could not have been more loving, I was still “lonely” for more, for a girlfriend who could provide a much deeper kind of love. 

Human relationships may be far more complex, challenging, and, at times, difficult.  However, they are far more satisfying and fulfilling--and necessary--than any relationship we have with our pets.  It tugs at our heartstrings when we see people who have been so beaten down, so used and abused, by human relationships that they’d prefer to focus all their love on a pet instead.  There is something so sad and tragic in someone who finds greater companionship in a pet, which can never fulfill that deeper need for human companionship and love.  This is what the Pope was getting at when he pointed out our greater dignity.  Endowed with rationality, an intellect and will, we are far more like God than our pets.  We not only need a deeper human love; we need that deepest love of all, divine love. 

I was dumbfounded recently by a conversation I had with someone about Heaven.  They told me that they didn’t want to go to Heaven if their dogs weren’t going to be there.  They were adamant that they’d actually refuse to go.  If dogs don’t go to Heaven, neither would they.  For them, that’s what would make Heaven, Heaven.  The burning question they had for God was: “Do dogs go to Heaven?”

When I taught high school religion, I used to get this question all the time.  Especially from students who had recently lost a beloved pet.  While there are all sorts of debates in Christianity about whether or not animals, who don’t have souls, can go to Heaven, I don’t think there is any definitive way to know.  God hasn’t revealed this to us.  So I honestly don’t know if dogs go to Heaven. 

However, I hope they do.  And what I do know is that God loves all the animals He’s created far more than we ever could--animals were His idea in the first place, after all!  So I trust that He will take care of them in the way He knows is best.  And what I do know is that He knows how much our pets mean to us.  So I trust that, somehow, He honors this perfectly.

But to choose a pet over Heaven, to think that Heaven can’t be Heaven without our beloved pets, is to miss the whole point of Eternal life.  Only God can satisfy the infinite longing of our hearts.  We can only be completely satisfied and fulfilled in Him, in the infinite ecstasy of His perfect love.  If we put our trust in Christ, if we choose to spend eternity with Him, we can be fully assured that there will be nothing missing.  Nothing lacking.  Even if dogs don’t go to Heaven. 

To choose anything else over God, whether that be a pet, a person, or anything else; to love anything or anyone more, is to choose Hell.  In the end, God will give us what we want most, even if we prefer something other than God.  That self-chosen, eternal something other is the reality we call Hell.  While it may be something very good--like a beloved pet--it will never be good enough.  The Hellish part is that, without God, there is an eternal lack.  It will be like the love I felt from my dogs, which was great, but always lacking the deeper love my heart longed for, the only love which could quench that profound cosmic thirst, the cosmic loneliness we all feel until we encounter God’s unconditional love in Christ. 

In I Corinthians 2:9, Paul declares: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even begun to dawn on human beings what God has in store for those who love Him.”  As great as the love of a pet is, there is a huge leap up to a human relationship.  The magnitude of human love is far more glorious.  The leap from even the best of human relationships to a relationship with Christ is infinitely greater.  He is the perfection of all the love we ever experience, including all the love we receive from our most beloved pets.  Only He can provide that cosmic unconditional love our hearts long for most.

Do you think dogs go to Heaven?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Go to the “Contact E. J.” Page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.  I look forward to hearing from you  

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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