Believe it or not, one of the most common questions I hear as a priest from young people as well as old is the following: “Do animals go to heaven?” It’s a good question! I often wonder about it myself. I love animals and take great joy in watching them. Like many of you, I see God reflected in nature.
I suppose in order to answer this we need to be clear. When we say animals, do we mean our pet dogs or do we mean those pesky mosquitoes? Well? They’re both animals — aren’t they? How about the deer that jumps in front of our car? Does it go straight to heaven as we go straight to the repair shop? We have to watch ourselves here – perhaps a better way of asking the question is: “Do all furry cute things that do me no harm and for which I have an affection go to heaven?”
The Book of Genesis tells us that God created man and the animals from the earth, but only to human beings did he impart the breath of life — an immortal soul. Human beings were given dominion over nature and the animals – to use them responsibly as needed. A crucial point here is that the earth has been created for us — we have not been created for the earth! This is an important distinction often confused today. Only human beings are created in the image and likeness of God – no other living thing shares in this dignity.
Now, the joy of heaven is when we will see God face to face. Sacred Scripture also tells us that, at the end of the world, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” And St. Paul also speaks of “the whole of creation awaiting redemption.”
With these thoughts in mind, there are two different ways of answering our question about animals. One way is to argue that since all created things — all animals — have been made to help human beings towards heaven, they are tools and nothing more. Since animals do not have immortal souls, and since once we are in heaven we will not need animals or any other worldly things to help us, it does not seem that animals will be in heaven.
Another way of looking at this is to refer to Scripture saying that at the end of the world, there will be “a new heaven and a new earth.” Thus it does not seem out of place to believe that in a way known only to God, our animal friends might have a place in the world to come. Because they do not have an immortal soul as we have, they would not be able to enjoy heaven in the way we would. However, because of the power of Christ’s resurrection, we can hope that all things will come to life again, even animals.
It’s an interesting topic. I’m inclined to believe that we will see our animal friends again. How, I do not know — but at the end of the world, we know that death will be destroyed forever. So we have hope. The question remains though, where will God put all the mosquitoes?
Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”