“Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail”
Martin Luther, who my church name—Lutheran—is named for, was asked by a little child one day in the 1500’s if would see his dog in heaven? Luther knelt down and while patting the little pup’s head gave them (child and dog) this comfort of God’s faithful love for all of His creation.
Will I be reunited with my beloved animals when I die? That is the question that so many of us face, not only children who wonder if I’ll see my dog in heaven, it is we adults that, when we lose one of our beloved companions, ask this same question in our own grief. Some adults have mocked and even insulted the idea of our animals being with God and in doing so mock and insult the very real grief that so many feel, saying only humans have a soul so only they can go to heaven. I’ve known many adults who were chastised when they asked this question and now feel ashamed of the feelings and questions they have. I am reminded of the Wisdom of King Solomon when he wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes 3:19-21
For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?
Recklessly, humanity as a whole treats the rest of creation with a casual arrogance, so often only seeing nature and animals as obstacles to get through, or resources only to be used instead of the fellow travelers they are. For Christians in particular this arrogant attitude is in direct conflict with the divine command for humanity to be caretakers and stewards of creation, acting with a respect that stems from knowing that all that is around us does not belong to us, but to the One who created and continues to sustain all things. Worth and value for either man or beast comes from the love of the Creator not in how man or beast may be used, exploited or how they are shown a casual kind of indifference to their plight and suffering.
Ultimately, in and of myself, as part of humanity, I cannot justify a reason that I should experience peace and restoration in the presence of God and my furry companions should not. If I was to base that justification on a purely moralistic basis in which creature exhibits the best qualities of loyalty, faithfulness, tenderness and yes, even compassion, my tan four-legged best friend has me beat hands (paws?) down. Those who say otherwise are blind to the very real, and often exceptional, lives that animals live.
Ultimately, as much as I would like to, I cannot commend my beloved Sharpei into heaven any more than I can commend myself on any of our good behavior. More than that, it goes beyond behavior, to a frailty that all of creation shares: our common mortality, a fragility of spirit and a deep need for deliverance. As I cannot overcome this frailty and I cannot overcome it for my furry friend, we are both in need. The inspired author to the Romans says it well. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:23)
That is why my hope does not lie in myself, nor does my hope for my furry companions lie in them, instead my hope has to extend outside of this creation that is bound to death and decay, to the Creator of all things. The Creator is not part of creation, but made all things to live, breath, grow, and change and has given creation a freedom to be and exist with all of the good and the ill that has come from being free. The Creator is not part of the created order and does not exist within the cycles of frailty that we know so well. To know the Creator, by myself as a creature, is like looking through a glass dimly, only being able to grasp reflections of the Creator’s care in the world I am surrounded by. Where my hope lies is in the self-giving love of the Creator and when I could not know or come to the Creator, the Creator came to me. In my humanity and frailty, in my words and emotions, in my kind of life and death, He became like me so I could learn to fully know the Creator and the great love given for me and all of creation. “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)
It is this self-giving love that caused me and all of Creation to exist in the first place. That is what gives me hope and promise for the future—for me and my slobbery Bulldog with the bent little tail. The Creator made me and all things to know and be known by the Creator and to find our life and being in the one who is the source of all life and existence. By the grace of the Creator, this joyous role we play, called existence, does not end with the death of the body but continues in the spirit in loving relationship with the one who made and redeems us and looks forward to the day when the Creator will make all things new, both for me and my furry traveling companions.
All of us together, man and beast, women and child, all of creation, for the love of God shown in Jesus, together praise the one who has both created and redeemed us, whether in the body or out of the body. “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord for He comes.” Psalm 96:11-13
Will I see my dog in heaven? Will I be in heaven? Not on my own power and not through the selfless love of my fur balls who have loved me through the years, and those slobbering bundles of joy that are with me still today. But through the love of God in Jesus for all things great and small, living together and celebrating all that the Creator has done for us, golden tails and all!
“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. By the power of your love, enable all of us to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.” (Blessing of the Animals)