In thirty years of pastoral ministry, I’ve noticed that certain theological questions surface more often than others. Older adults ask questions about heating and cooling like“Why is it so hot in the sanctuary?” Younger adults ponder the nature of time like “How can I teach at Vacation Bible School while I’m vacationing at Disney World?” Teenagers question authority like “Why can’t we spray whipped cream in the church van?” Children want to know, “Will my dog go to heaven?” (Answer: Dogs probably do, but the Discipline of the church is unclear about cats.)
The question about canines, however, is nothing new. It’s an ancient artifact. A great many theological minds have pondered it, and have raked through the Bible and made fascinating theological connections about animals based on references to white horses and beasts rising out of the sea. One guy I know in Wyoming asserts that his dog had a near death experience (NDE), saw a tunnel of light and consequently will no longer chase cats. The dog is reformed and he’s writing a book about it (the owner, not the dog).
But the church has been divided over the canine issue for centuries. Some have held to a strict “humans-only” policy for heaven. While others, like Saint Francis and my grandmother, have insisted that God never abandons nor forecloses on anything God has created. Likewise, some insist that all dogs go to heaven. But there are certain fundamentalist sects that hold to a poodles-only heaven (and some that prefer terriers).
Personally, I’ve always affirmed the idea of dogs going to heaven. I always tell children that God will take care of their dogs. I think this is good pastoral care.
But I must admit my theology could be founded upon my own prejudices and preferences. Perhaps I say this because I’d like to see my childhood dog, Tippy, again. Tippy only had three legs and if any dog was worthy of healing and full redemption, it’s him!
I may affirm the resurrection of dogs because I want to see Buster, our beloved pug, one more time. Still, it’s a comfort to know that these animals gave joy and deserve joy in return. In fact, I think I would rather spend eternity with the dogs instead of some people I know. Dogs are a lot less hassle and they love unconditionally. I worry a great deal more about the redemption of humanity.
I’m grateful for saints like Francis who affirmed the wonder and delight of God’s creatures. I always enjoy our annual pet blessing at Calvary and apparently most people do, too. The majority of people bring their dogs. A few bring cats. Some bring rabbits. And last year one lady brought a chicken, but that’s another story.
Todd Outcalt is blessed to serve the people and livestock of Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Ind. He lives with a wild woman on four acres of land populated by squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, deer, muskrat and feral cats. Sometimes he kayaks to the church office. He also has written many magazine articles about beavers, fish, foul – and even road kill.