For many of us, our pets are much-loved members of our families. And when a pet dies, it is often a sad occasion of genuine grief and significant loss. And in the face of grief, we look to thoughts of eternal comfort to bind up our wounds. Is our pet in a better place? Is our beloved pet in heaven?
For this, and all such questions, our benchmark of faith is Scripture. Let me attempt to answer this question as delicately and as clearly as possible. Though animal life is precious, and we are called to be faithful stewards of all life, animal life does not carry the same weight as human life - the image of God. There is no indication in Scripture that animals enjoy conscious fellowship with God or knowledge of God. They also do not bear moral responsibility for their choices before a holy God. These faculties and responsibilities are unique to human beings, made in the image of God, and to angelic beings.
There is also no indication in Scripture that animals have eternal souls. This means that animals do not seem to share in the afterlife as we do. While we should not expect that aminals will dwell with God in heaven forever, nor should we grieve that they will suffer the eternal torment of hell. So as hard as it may be to accept in the midst of grief, we have no clear biblical reason to expect that we will see our beloved pets again in the new creation. Although there will be animals in the new, renewed creation, there is no indication that they will be the very same animals that we have known during our time here in this fallen world.
At this point, someone may wonder why I would tackle this question at all. Why does it matter? Why not let people find comfort in such things if it helps them in their grief? The reason I feel it is important to address this question is because a source of comfort that subtly erodes the biblical truths about eternity is not a true source of comfort after all. Our hope of eternal life with Christ in the new creation is a real and true hope, and a source of solid comfort for all those who have believed in Jesus Christ. Our eternal hope for every believer in Jesus is based on clear biblical promises, not on vague thoughts and dreams of a better place. So ultimately, the clearer we are about biblical expectations of eternity, the more comforted we will become.
So what comfort can a Christian hope to have when they have lost a beloved animal? There is comfort in knowing that since your beloved animal is not an eternal soul, your pet will not suffer after death. There is suffering in this fallen world – sickness, pain, and death. But for animals, when they leave this life, there is no more suffering for them. We can also take comfort in knowing that in the new creation, those who have hoped in Christ will have no more grief. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4 ESV)
Our future with Christ will have no more sorrow and no more tears. So even if our beloved pets may not be there with us, we can be sure that in the life to come, we will no longer miss them. Instead, we will rejoice in the presence of God, and we will gladly glorify Him for His goodness in giving us all good gifts, including the beloved pets that we have known. We can also take comfort in knowing that we will enjoy the blessings of fellowship with animals in the new creation, unspoiled by the death and destruction of this present fallen world.