Part 2 (read part 1 here)
The new creation
Eternal life, then, is unlikely to be the privilege of humans only. In fact, the apostle Paul states quite plainly that, just as the creation as a whole was damaged by Adam’s sin, so the creation as a whole will be renewed through the redemption of human sinners. “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) Are animals to be excluded from this promise?
God has promised us a new heaven and a new earth, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Revelation 21:4) He has given us very little in the way of practical detail, and when we are told things like “the wolf will live with the lamb,” (Isaiah 11:6) it can be hard to disentangle the literal from the metaphorical. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine the beautiful gardens of Paradise with no birdsong or butterflies. And if there are going to be animals there in a general sense, why not the specific individual animals that we have known and loved?
Redemption for animals
In order to inherit eternal life, we humans have to be redeemed; we have to repent of our sin and put our faith in Jesus Christ. Animals are often said to be excluded from redemption, because they cannot do this. But again, this goes against the Biblical evidence.
The Passover is the definitive act of God in the Old Testament – not only an event of great significance for the nation of Israel, but the paradigm for our redemption and salvation through the death of Christ (I Corinthians 5:7). Both in the preparations for the event, and in its outworking, every detail is pregnant with meaning – such as the command not to break the bones of the lamb (Exodus 12:46; John 19:31-36).
For months beforehand, Moses had been negotiating with Pharaoh, repeating again and again God’s demand to “let My people go!” (Exodus 7:16; 8:20; 9:13) After nine plagues, Pharaoh finally agreed that all the Israelites could leave Egypt – so long as they left their animals behind. But this, declared Moses, was not enough: “Our livestock too must go with us; not a hoof is to be left behind.” (Exodus 10:26) He claimed that this was because they would be needed for sacrifice; but this was a negotiating ploy that did not deceive Pharaoh (the Israelites wouldn’t need all their animals for sacrifices!). Even though all those sheep and cattle would slow the Israelites down, and would require feeding and watering on the long trek to Canaan; even though there were livestock to be acquired in Canaan; even though God was well able to provide the people with meat to eat on their journey (in the form of quail); the animals were considered to be part of God’s people and had to be liberated along with them.
It was because Pharaoh would not agree to this, that all the firstborn of Egypt died in the tenth plague – a plague that affected animals as well as people (Exodus 11:5). But Israel’s animals, like the Israelites themselves, were protected by the blood of the Passover lambs. In each Israelite house a lamb died not only for the firstborn human in the family, but also for any firstborn animals in the household. Both people and animals were ‘redeemed by the blood of the lamb’, and left Egypt the next morning to begin a new life.
So do our pets ‘go to heaven’? I for one think that they do. “Not a hoof (or paw, or claw) is to be left behind!”