Friday, August 1, 2014

Will Our Pets (and Other Animals) Greet Us in Heaven? *

Part Twenty-Five:  More Scholars Who Believe in Animal Resurrection

In part twenty-four, we looked at several well-known theologians and scholars who believed in the likelihood of animal resurrection. In this article, we’ll look at two more.   

Richard Bauckham      

In his book The Bible and Ecology, this British scholar and theologian made tantalizing statements that implied animal resurrection. For example he wrote, “If the new creation is the transformation of the whole of this material creation so that all creatures may share in the life of the divine eternity, then Jesus’ resurrection must lead the way to new creation for the whole community of creation, not just humans.” (171) In order to get clarification, I emailed professor Bauckham and asked this question: “What’s your belief (and why) on whether or not pets and other animals alive today will be in the new heaven and earth?” Bauckham replied, “I take seriously that the new creation is the new creation of all things. So plants too and rivers and mountains! God will take everything of value into the new creation. Redeemed from all evil and suffering.”  

C.S. Lewis    

This brilliant and gifted scholar is unarguably the most widely read and admired Christian apologists in the twentieth century. Apparently, Lewis shared the same concern for the eternal destiny of pets as do many other people. But in his case, he provided a somewhat different—but no less thought-provoking—answer to the issue. In his typical lucid style, Lewis suggested that pets, and perhaps “higher” animals, will  experience resurrection and eternal life.  

Lewis begins by correctly pointing out that any conclusion about the eternal fate of animals is necessarily speculative because God didn’t (or wouldn’t) give us that information: “If animals were, in fact, immortal, it is unlikely, from what we discern of God’s methods in the revelation, that he would have revealed this truth.” Lewis limits his discussion on animal resurrection to the higher animals, in particular what he refers to as “tame” animals (e.g. pets). He recognized that they possess “real, though doubtless rudimentary, self-hood . . . and specifically in those we tame . . . [thus] their destiny demands a somewhat deeper consideration” [than less sentient animals]. (All Lewis quotes from The Problem of Pain, chapter 9.) 

Lewis’ explanation for possible animal resurrection lies in their interconnectedness with people: “The beasts are to be understood only in their relation to man and, through man, to God.” Mankind, Lewis continues, “was appointed by God to have dominion over the beasts, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by divine right.” Thus, “in so far as the tame animal has a real self or personality, it owes this almost entirety to its master. If a good sheepdog seems ‘almost human’ that is because a good shepherd has made it so.”

Here’s how this plays out in terms of animal resurrection. Lewis argued that just as people are “in” Christ, so tame animals “attain a real self…in their masters. . . . And in this way it seems to me possible that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.” Moreover, “If any [wild animals]. . . should live again, their immortality would also be related to man—not . . . to individual masters, but to humanity.”

In short, Lewis believed human resurrection would encompass at least “tame” animals’ resurrection because their eternal destiny coexists with the people who loved and cared for them. Although Lewis kept his focus primarily on the resurrection of tame animals, he allowed that wild animals might also resurrect to inhabit the redeemed new earth.  

A Crucial Clarification 

Now, let’s pause a moment. I want to be careful no one misunderstands what I’m saying before I begin to systematically lay out my arguments for animal resurrection. When I (or any of the theologians and scholars I’ve quoted) suggest that animals will be resurrected  and dwell with saved humans in Heaven, I’m not suggesting there is no fundamental difference between humans and animals. Only humans are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), and we are of far greater value to God than animals (Matt. 12:12; Luke 12: 7, 24). The Bible teaches that people are the pinnacle of God’s creation (Ps. 8:4-6), and we enjoy an exalted position in creation (Matt. 6:26; 10:31; 12:11-12). That animals will be resurrected does not elevate them to the value of humans in God’s eyes, not on this earth nor in the age to come.  But it doesn’t follow from this that animals can’t be resurrected. They can. Animals will be resurrected because they are included in creation’s redemption from the curse. There’s nothing to fear about this. We don’t have to worry that animal resurrection somehow compromises mankind’s value to God or elevates animals to human status. That would be unbiblical!
Now that you see I’m in good company with others who believe in animal resurrection—and people much smarter than I am—I can begin to systematically lay out the arguments for animal resurrection. I’ll begin this next week.   

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