Magazine article The Christian Century

Animals in the Kingdom

Magazine article The Christian Century

Animals in the Kingdom

Article excerpt

Will there be pets in heaven? It's a not uncommon question among Americans, who love their pets and over a lifetime possess a succession of them. Will there be animals in heaven? More to the point, will my beloved Merle or Lucinda or Marley or Sassy be in heaven?

The complexion of the question changes considerably in light of recent accounts of the afterlife, which emphasize that God will create not only a new heavens but a new earth. Ultimately, "in accordance with his promise, we wait for a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home" (2 Pet. 3:13). Last month I discussed a spate of recent books that affirm the transformed new earth. These books, representing what we might call the new account of the afterlife, take seriously a rich set of biblical texts which affirm that the material creation will not pass away but will finally be taken up into God's eschatological work and be transformed as the dwelling place of resurrected human beings.

And not only human beings. Consider Isaiah 11:6-9, which looks ahead to the eschaton, where "the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea."

In somewhat less poetical language, Paul assumes that the whole creation (presumably including animals) is waiting "with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God ... in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:19-21).

As Edward Hicks's famous Quaker paintings suggest, the future peaceable kingdom will include a vast array of animals as well as plants. As the Bible and Christian tradition repeatedly attest, creation itself praises God, and apparently this praise will join that of angels and human beings and continue into eternity.

I have long thought that Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Inversnaid" most astutely captures this Christian theme of creation's ongoing, natural praise of God. As kingfishers "catch fire" and dragonflies "draw flame," each "mortal thing does one thing and the same. …

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