Monday, August 18, 2008

The Death Of Pets And The Afterlife

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.


  1. Thats the rub isnt it? I mean, if pets dont go to Heaven, then it isnt necessarily Heaven for some people is it?

    I can tell you that if my turtle doesnt go to heaven, then I dont wanna go there either. If my turtle ceases to exist (as in no afterlife), then I dont want an afterlife either.

    Come to think of it, I dont want an afterlife regardless.

    Who the hell wants to exist forever anyways? Scaredy cats I think.

  2. You've got an argumentum ad populum in here:

    One of the strongest arguments for universal infant salvation is its widespread acceptance among the earliest patristic Christians.

    On a similar note, did you know that one of the strongest arguments for a flat earth is its widespread acceptance among the earliest Christians?

  3. Aaron said:
    I can tell you that if my turtle doesnt go to heaven, then I dont wanna go there either.

    Apparently, you have no cause to concern yourself on this front.

    Aaron said:
    On a similar note, did you know that one of the strongest arguments for a flat earth is its widespread acceptance among the earliest Christians?

    You do realize the "common" flat Earth belief is a myth, don't you? Started by...atheists, come to think of it. You know, because they had such brilliant arguments against Christians that they couldn't use them in public. So they said, "Christians used to believe in a flat Earth" instead.

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but Christopher Columbus wasn't trying to prove the world was round when he set off in his voyage. Virtually everyone (and especially sailors) knew it was.

    But of course you could always prove me wrong by, I don't know, doing what you're SUPPOSED to do when you make wild assertions and show which Christians believed in a flat Earth. You could demonstrate this by, you know, READING what they wrote and then citing them.

    I mean, it's not like you've got anything better to do with your time since everything you do cashes out to the same nihilistic value.

  4. Back to an actual pastoral discussion of this topic, Jason...

    I'd like to believe that God does give us our pets in heaven, or at least the New Earth. I can see Him doing that. He provides them for us here on earth.

    My Mom lost all of her 5 cats in a short time, and I lost one. A few days after mine died, a stray wandered up, and, over the course of a few days, she was mine.

    After Mom lost hers, a stray wandered up, and she eventually let into the house where it lives.

    In addition, one of her friends found a stray kitten her vet had taken in, and she's has brought much joy to Mom in the past 2 years.

    I'd like to believe that God will do for us like he did for Noah, that in the New Earth, our pets will turn up at our homes, sent to us like God sent the animals to Noah in his day, a gift from our father, one that mysteriously appears without notice, much the way our pets turn up.

    When we name them, we take Adam's role a step further. We let them into our hearts and families. We nurture them as our children. I'd like to think that God returns to us what we once named.

    But this, of course, just speculative thinking, but one I'd like to hope for. Hope is good, and a gift from God too.

  5. Aaron Kinney said:

    "I mean, if pets dont go to Heaven, then it isnt necessarily Heaven for some people is it?"

    A Christian's primary interest would be in God, not pets, and he would trust God's judgment about what happens to pets. God would take every factor into account, and, as the Biblical passages I cited demonstrate, the God of the Bible is portrayed as being aware of and approving of strong relationships between a human and a pet. He may be aware of other factors that make it inappropriate to restore pets in the afterlife, and those other factors aren't being taken into account in ignorance of the factors I mentioned.

    You write:

    "Who the hell wants to exist forever anyways? Scaredy cats I think."

    That's an assertion, not an argument.

    You write:

    "You've got an argumentum ad populum in here"

    No, I wasn't appealing to popularity. The reason why I mentioned the earliest patristic Christians is because of their historical proximity to the apostolic era. Similarly, the widespread early testimony in favor of Peter's presence in Rome leads many people to conclude that Peter probably went to Rome. Other factors have to be taken into account, but the early popularity of a belief is significant in this context. I wasn't appealing to popularity by itself.

    You write:

    "On a similar note, did you know that one of the strongest arguments for a flat earth is its widespread acceptance among the earliest Christians?"

    As Peter has explained, you're mistaken. And we've discussed this issue in past threads. See, for example, here and here. I've cited multiple sources in the earliest centuries of Christianity, including Christians, denying that the earth is flat. There's nothing suggesting that belief in a flat earth was as widespread as belief in universal infant salvation. I've documented that conclusion, whereas you've offered us an undocumented assertion.

  6. I believe that there will not be pets in heaven.

  7. John Loftus has posted a response here. The response is mostly about subjects other than the one I was addressing.

    He makes reference to how Evan and Hector Avalos "tanned our hides", but he links to two posts by Hector Avalos that Steve Hays answered with no further response from Evan or Avalos. Regarding Evan's credibility, see here.

    Loftus refers to how we "now disown" Touchstone. How have we "disowned" him recently? Peter Pike and Steve Hays were referring to his atheistic tendencies in 2006.

    Loftus writes:

    "Okay, if it’s a dog fight they want, then let me choose a battle with Jason Engwer who admits he's basically ignorant about the sort of questions he's about to write about."

    Why would Loftus ignore the dozens of posts we've written in response to him, including many posts he hasn't yet interacted with, and choose to focus instead on a post that doesn't even mention him, one that's about the death of pets and the afterlife?

    And what does Loftus mean by "basically ignorant"? I said that I haven't studied the issues much, but I've studied them enough to reach some conclusions. Instead of disputing my conclusions, Loftus goes on to discuss other issues I wasn't addressing. For example:

    "I have repeatedly talked about the problem of pain for sentient animals due to the law of predation in the world as animals prey on each other for food, including animal consumption by the top of the food chain, human beings....The amount of pain among the animal world calls for an explanation for the reasons why a good God supposedly created them....I have asked what animals did to deserve the pain they experience. I have asked what moral lessons they are expected to learn from their pain. And I have asked whether they will experience an eternal bliss in a heaven made for them that might help overcome the pains they experience on earth."

    My post wasn't about "the problem of pain" as it relates to animals. And Loftus has ignored large amounts of material we've written on such issues in the past, including posts written in response to him. Again, why does he ignore what we've written on the subject he wants to discuss, then use a response to a post about the death of pets and the afterlife to repeat his objections about that other subject?

    Loftus writes:

    "Jason Engwer’s view is that God may resurrect sentient animals like our pets to a new life, either on a new earth, or in heaven itself, thus rewarding them for their service to God and to man."

    Notice his distortion of what I wrote. Was I addressing rewards for pets? No, I wasn't. Loftus has an issue he wants to discuss in mind, and he's going to get to it regardless of whether the person he's responding to was addressing that subject.

    He writes:

    "I also criticized the probability of having resurrected bodies too. How is it possible to resurrect any body, whether man or beast, if that body no longer exists due to being completely eaten or burned to dust?"

    That's another issue I wasn't addressing. And it's an issue we've addressed in the past. Why doesn't Loftus consult the archives if he wants to address our position on such issues I wasn't discussing?

    He writes:

    "Granted, both Lewis and Hick offered some reasons for thinking animal pain is not divine cruelty, but in the end they punt to ignorance....Now I’m not asking Christians like Engwer to explain everything, not by a long shot. I cannot explain everything. But I do expect them to explain, well, a lot."

    Loftus has ignored or responded irrationally to answers we've given him on the problem of evil in the past, and he's given us no reason to believe that his failure to "explain everything" is acceptable, whereas ours isn't.

    In the comments section of the same thread, Touchstone writes:

    "This looks like Jason (unwittingly) projecting the basic credulity and 'believe what validates you' ethos of his faith. Dogs in heaven? Scripture doesn't really say, so why not?"

    My position isn't "believe what validates you" and "Scripture doesn't really say, so why not". Why are Loftus and Touchstone so incompetent in even understanding the position they're professing to interact with?

    Touchstone writes:

    "It's a microcosm of the wider case for human theism, isn't it? If you can manage to make theism a 'reasonable possibility' in your view -- easy enough to do with plastic concepts of 'possibility' -- then of course, believe in canine afterlife! It's preferable, after all, and that really is what matters."

    I've never said that "reasonable possibility" is enough to justify theism or that "It's preferable, after all, and that really is what matters".

  8. I should clarify something I worded poorly in my last post. I wrote:

    "Loftus has ignored or responded irrationally to answers we've given him on the problem of evil in the past, and he's given us no reason to believe that his failure to 'explain everything' is acceptable, whereas ours isn't."

    I was referring to both our explanation and Loftus' explanation as failures to explain everything. The question, then, is why our incomplete explanation is insufficient, whereas Loftus' incomplete explanation is sufficient. My wording above might leave people with the misleading impression that Loftus was saying that our explanation is insufficient because it doesn't explain everything. That's not what I intended.

  9. I hope there's something better for animals: all they have in this life is senseless pain and suffering, being eaten by other animals and humans. What's the point? What do they gain by having their flesh torn into by other animals? Not much, that I can gather, given they have no redemption to obtain.

    Not that I don't like a good filet with gorgonzola now and then, but I don't really see it as a cow.

    Their suffering is distanced from me and made more sanitized for my consumption, very similar to the sufferings of the reprobate to the elect.

  10. Animals save lives everyday. Just think of the animal testing that take place so that we humans can have effective treatments to cure disease and illness.

  11. A poster by the name of Scott has written a response to me in the thread at Debunking Christianity. He writes:

    "For example, we eat animals for food and we need plants to generate oxygen from carbon-dioxide. Some of these animals need to eat plats and even other animals. Will this new earth have the same ecosystem? What about the vast number of animals we've spent hundreds of years breeding as pets? Will Rover be 'restored' to the form of his ancestors with the rest of the earth? Would his owners even recognize him? Critical thinking seems to have taken a back seat to comforting a grieving pet owner."

    I was making some observations about the death of pets and the afterlife without claiming to know the answer to, or to be attempting to discuss, every related issue. Since the Bible refers to a future transformation of the earth, Christians would expect changes in how the world operates, including how animals would interact with one another and with humans, but we wouldn't claim to know every detail of what will be involved in that transformation. We can know some things without knowing other things, and our degree of confidence in our conclusions can vary from issue to issue.

    How does it prove a lack of critical thinking to not address the issues Scott has mentioned? Nothing Scott has posted refutes my conclusions. If humans would have to be given a new means of identifying a pet in the afterlife in order to recognize a pet, for example, how would that fact refute anything I said? It wouldn't. And is there any reason to conclude that if I didn't mention an issue in the post Scott is responding to, then I must not have thought about that issue? No, there isn't. There are a lot of issues relevant to what Scott has said that Scott doesn't discuss in his post. Should we conclude that he's lacking in critical thinking, since he didn't discuss those issues? If I had neglected to consider a particular issue, how would that fact change my conclusions? For example, if I had failed to consider how humans would identify their pets in the afterlife, would my failure to consider that issue alter my conclusion that God may restore pets to their owners? No, since giving humans a means of identifying an animal is something within the power of the Christian God. Similarly, when Jesus refers to the recognition of Abraham and other Old Testament era individuals in the afterlife, a person can trust what Jesus said without knowing the means by which Abraham will be recognized or without even thinking about the issue of a means of recognition.

    He writes:

    "The majority of these references reflect the fact that animals were the primary method of transportation at the time. Modern day versions would have depicted motorized vehicles instead of horses and camels."

    Which would mean that such passages fall into the category I described as "references to animals to convey a point". That category is relevant because it demonstrates the Biblical authors' willingness to associate animals with the afterlife, which would be more difficult to explain if they thought of the afterlife as characterized by a lack of animals.

    He writes:

    "But, again, Jason fails to indicate on what basis would such a distinction be made."

    But Scott goes on to write:

    "Eareckson, who Jason quoted for support, couldn't have made it more clear"

    Why would Scott claim that I didn't indicate the basis on which God would decide which animals to restore, then go on to acknowledge that my citation of Joni Eareckson Tada "couldn't have made it more clear" what such a basis would be?

    I think that Joni Eareckson Tada's suggestion is a reasonable possibility, but I also think some other possibilities are reasonable. But I don't have to address each possible basis on which some animals would be restored, whereas others wouldn't be, in order to make the point that such a distinction may occur.

    He writes:

    "In addition, Jason has utterly failed to address is the gradation of sentiency we observe in all living things. For example, we've learned that elephants, along with dolphins and specific great apes have the capacity to recognize themselves in a mirror. They exhibit a strong sense of identity and culture. Nowhere is this mentioned or even appeared to considered for a brief moment."

    Again, why would I have to discuss that issue in my post in order to discuss other issues? What "we've learned" about animals is partial knowledge that may change or be significantly supplemented in the future. Even if we knew all that could be known about gradations of sentiency, why would I have to discuss the differences between, say, elephants and rats in order to make the point that some animals might be restored while others aren't? That point can be made without discussing what Scott is discussing.

    He writes:

    "I wonder, is this similar to the ecstatic pleasure one must surely feel, knowing a human being we love will spend an eternity in hell, while Scrappy makes it to heaven?"

    The fact that Joni Eareckson Tada mentions her desire to see her dog in the afterlife doesn't mean that she considers all other factors irrelevant. In a Christian worldview, a person in Hell is somebody who hates God, whereas we have no reason to believe that Joni Eareckson Tada's dog hates God. There's no obstacle blocking her dog's presence in Heaven comparable to the obstacles blocking the presence of a person alienated from God.

    Later in the same thread, John Loftus comments:

    "Jason faults me for sneaking the problem of evil into this discussion, and I do. So what? It's part of the problem he must try to explain."

    Does Loftus address every issue that's "part of the problem he must try to explain" in every post he writes? No, he doesn't.

    And, as I explained in my last response to him, the problem isn't just that he changed the subject. He changed the subject by bringing up some issues we've discussed with him and in other contexts many times in the past, including in discussions John left without addressing our responses to him.

  12. It is very joyful to think our pets would be restored to us in the afterlife. One thing I wonder or speculate about--would the pets be restored as immortal beings, if not they would still have a finite life span and would have to be renewed or re-created over and over ?