This month's question comes from a concerned child who writes, "Do animals go to heaven? I thought animals had souls. They certainly have personalities. We love them so much and when they die we hope they move on to a better place. That gives us peace of mind."
My own household is home for two dogs, a cat, three rabbits, and a bird and I for one can attest that these animals all do have personalities of their own. But souls? The notion of animals with souls could make a difference in the eating habits of millions of people, since it would seem barbaric to slaughter animals for food if they had souls. And besides, everyone knows animals aren't as smart as people (they don't work for a livingthough they may be enslaved), they aren't as civilized as people (they don't go to war), and besides, they're dependent on people (how many species have become instinct in the past 100 years?!?).
But do they have souls? Let's turn to scripture and see what we find.
First, we have to look at the creation stories, since that's where we find the accounts of animals being created. Then we have to decide what Hebrew word means "soul." A quick look in the Hebrew dictionary tells us the word nephesh chaya is the word phrase most often translated "soul." Indeed, in the King James Version we read in Genesis 2.7 that the human was created "a living soul"literally, nephesh chaya.
Okay, people have souls. But do animals?
"So God created the great sea monsters and every nephesh chaya that moves, of every kind" (Genesis 1.21). Apparently fish and birds have souls
"And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth nephesh chaya of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.' And it was so" (Genesis 1.24). And apparently so do the rest of the animals.
But if they have souls, can we eat them? Well, eating animals certainly wasn't in the original divine plan. In Genesis 1.29-30 God tells the humans they're to eat vegetables, grains, and fruits while the animals are to eat "every green plant." Animals weren't created to be fodder either for us or for each other (read Genesis 2.18-19 to see why God said animals were created).
Animals have personalities. They apparently have souls. And they weren't created for our dining pleasure. But do they go to heaven?
The Bible isn't big on telling us what heaven's like. The word picture in Revelation 21 often used to describe heaven actually describes the new earth and the new Jerusalem. The only thing we know for sure about heaven is that there is one, it's where God is, and it's a promised future for the saintsoh, and there are animals there.
Animals in heaven? So says scripture. Horses are regularly pictured as being a part of heaven (2 Kings 2.11; Revelation 6). And there is the list of creatures who are like oxen, lions, and eagles seen by John in heaven gathered around the throne of Godapparently God likes animals too. (Rev. 4.7). These animals are shown as a part of heaven's realm, so it seems likely, since they have souls, that heaven is also the eternal home for those animals that have been an important part of creation from the beginning.
So if they have souls and go to heaven, why do humans treat animals so badly (like for food, shoes, jackets, and so on)? Because, unlike animals, humans can choose to do evil. Animals can only choose to be animals. We have choices to makeburgers or spaghetti marinara? Another logging project or the spotted owl? A new shade of lipstick or the life of a rhesus monkey?
Animals are heaven bound. The real question is . . . what's our responsibility to them as fellow inhabitants of God's created order?