Last week my aunt, a devout believer in her 80s, asked me if there will be animals in Heaven. Perhaps it is a good question to ask during this season when live nativity scenes spring up in every town complete with donkeys, goats, sheep, cows and camels. If live animals were important to the birth of Christ, maybe they will be important in Heaven.
Dietrich Bonhoffer, the twentieth century theologian and martyr, once counseled a ten-year-old boy whose German Shepherd died. The boy was distraught. He asked Bonhoffer if his dog would be in Heaven. Bonhoffer said, “I quickly made up my mind and said to him: ‘Look, God created human beings and also animals, and I’m sure he also loves animals. And I believe that with God it is such that all who loved each other on earth – genuinely loved each other – will remain together with God …”
Man, of course, was made in God’s image. God breathed into us the breath of life and we became a living soul. But God’s love for all creatures in his creation is abundantly clear. When God made the world and all that is in it, he included the animal kingdom. After He had divided the light from darkness, brought form out of chaos and fashioned the continents and oceans, He filled the earth with living things: fish, birds and beasts (in that order). Before man ever walked the earth, when the world was as He planned it to be, “God saw that it was good.”
After sin entered the world, mankind sank deeper into selfishness, deceit, violence, murder and rebellion against the Creator. When God’s judgment could be postponed no longer, He sent a catastrophic flood. But God showed his love for man and beast by providing a means of escape through Noah’s ark. God instructed Noah, “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” (Genesis 6:19-21). God’s love for all living things was further reflected in Jesus’ statement that not one sparrow falls to the ground outside the Father’s care.
Looking forward to the day when the Messiah’s Kingdom would replace our world, Isaiah wrote: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. … They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9).
If God so loved us that he blessed us with the companionship and service of animals on earth and chose them to surround the birth of His Son, would He withhold His love from us in Heaven by depriving us of these creatures who shared our mortal joys and sorrows? Is it possible that having demonstrated his glory in the beauty and balance of nature in this world that the new heaven and the new earth would be limited to men and angels?