Pope Francis recently made the news when, speaking of the afterlife during a general audience at the Vatican last month, implied dogs would go to heaven. Which raised questions from some about whether dogs had souls and indeed would go to heaven.
To those who question dogs going to heaven I say, “Really?!”
Nevertheless, the question is: Do dogs go to heaven?
I’ll begin to answer with Pope Francis’ own words. His actual quote was, “Holy Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.” But he wasn’t the first Pope to indicate the inclusiveness of heaven. Pope Paul VI, comforting a boy whose dog had died said, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
Two Popes. Same implication. Despite the fact I am not Roman Catholic, I have always thought Popes to be pretty well versed in scripture and, in this case I believe they have a solid scriptural basis for their comments.
The Bible is a story about God. In fact the word theology comes from two Greek words, theos, God and logos, words. Theology is words about God. And the story, the words of scripture, written over a period of 1000 years, are the account of the beginning of creation, the turning away from God, fall to violence, and God’s eventual reconciliation of creation to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now I realize this might sound a little different from what some Christians claim. The claim I grew up with was God sent Jesus to save us from hell, and by believing in Jesus we would go to heaven. While that can still be a way of talking about what God has done in Jesus I wonder if it falls short of the “fulfillment of this wonderful design” about which Pope Francis spoke. I do think it falls short and here’s why. It’s also why I believe all dogs go to heaven.
Jesus primary message of good news is not about heaven the way we often talk about heaven. Heaven is not a place up in the sky, or a place to which we go when we die. According to Jesus heaven is here and now. The Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven about which Jesus spoke is a state of being, a way of living, an alternative to other ways of living. Jesus message was about how to live here and now, how to care for one another, how to love, how to be just and fair. For example, Jesus begins his ministry in Luke’s Gospel by reading from the Prophet Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…” All of Jesus’ descriptions of heaven were about humane conditions on earth. Christians even pray, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”
The scriptures go on to say there will be a marriage of heaven and earth (they become one). There will be a new Jerusalem (the name means Peace).
And then there is Jesus’ bodily resurrection. If creation is not being reclaimed by God then why is there a need for a bodily resurrection? Why not just a spiritual one?
The Christian claim of a bodily resurrection is consistent with the scriptural claim that God is taking back his creation, making it the paradise it was intended to be. That is what I think Pope Paul VI meant, and Pope Francis meant.
All creation has been reclaimed by God through Jesus. That includes dogs.
And it even includes cats…