I've experienced the death of some pets, and I've been speaking with some people who recently lost a pet. In order to be better prepared for any discussions that might arise with those individuals, and for the benefit of our readers, I want to discuss some issues related to the death of pets. I haven't studied these issues much, and the sources I've consulted seem to agree that there isn't much Biblical data available. But I want to discuss the evidence I'm aware of for the benefit of the readers, and perhaps some readers will be able to correct or expand upon my observations.
- Though animals are less valuable than humans, God is concerned about animals and expects humans to be concerned about them (Psalm 36:6, Proverbs 12:10, Jonah 4:11, Matthew 6:26).
- A strong relationship between a human and an animal is acceptable (2 Samuel 12:1-4), and the death of an animal in such a relationship is something that's expected to be perceived as a significant loss (2 Samuel 12:5-7). It seems that grieving the loss of such a pet is acceptable and to be expected. The desire to see a dead pet again is understandable and reasonable.
- There will be animals in Heaven (Heaven defined as the entirety of the afterlife of the righteous, including a restored earth), in a different condition than they experience in this life, and passages describing the afterlife sometimes either refer to animals there or use references to animals to convey a point (Isaiah 66:20, Romans 8:19-23, Revelation 19:11-14).
- There isn't any passage of scripture that directly refers to pets in Heaven, nor is there any passage that directly contradicts the concept.
- One of the strongest arguments for universal infant salvation is its widespread acceptance among the earliest patristic Christians. I'm not aware of anything comparable on the issue of the restoration of pets in the afterlife. Though I've seen passages addressing the future transformation of animals considered as a class of creatures (for example, Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, 2:17), I don't remember ever seeing any patristic source address the subject of the restoration of pets. I suspect that it's addressed somewhere in the patristic sources, given how many thousands of pages and hundreds of years are covered by the patristic literature, but I don't remember seeing such passages myself. If anybody is aware of any, I'd be interested in knowing about them. Some more recent Christians, such as C.S. Lewis and John Piper, have referred to the restoration of pets as at least a reasonable possibility.
- There could be a restoration of some animals and pets without a restoration of all of them. As Joni Eareckson Tada puts it, "If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn't surprise me. It would be just like him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character…Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous.…Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness of joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on his children." Such a scenario wouldn't require that people in Hell have a similar blessing, nor does it require that every pet involved in the life of believers will be restored.
- There's much we don't know about Heaven, but the large majority of passages on the subject encourage us to think of it as something "far better" than this life (Philippians 1:23), even though some passages might seem disappointing to some people in a sense (Matthew 22:30). A lot of what people think about Heaven isn't directly stated by scripture. It's either an apparent implication of what scripture teaches or a possibility that scripture doesn't comment upon. People sometimes refer to humans ruling over and exploring the rest of the universe in the afterlife, for example. I'm not aware of any passage of scripture that directly discusses the subject, but it doesn't contradict scripture, it's a reasonable possibility, and it could be argued that it's an implication of what some passages teach. As long as people are responsibly distinguishing between certainties and probabilities, and are responsibly distinguishing between probabilities and possibilities, I think this sort of discussion of the afterlife is acceptable. The idea that we should think only in terms of certainties or only in terms of what scripture directly addresses doesn't make sense. To somebody grieving over the death of a pet, a reasonable possibility of seeing that pet again is preferable to no possibility.