This morning, we were awakened by the tears of one of our children. They had found our dog, Nellie, dead on the floor.
Nellie was a cross-eye Chihuahua who was relatively new to our family, but she had already brought us much joy. She was about as good a dog as a Chihuahua can be.
As the tears flowed, the questions began to flow as well.
“Why did Nellie have to die?”
“Why did God take Nellie so soon?”
“Will we see Nellie in heaven?”
While some may think these questions are silly, I do not.
The longer we live on this fallen planet, the more sorrow we face. Some suffering is small, and other is great; but it all hurts. Some families experience tragedy early and often. Ours has been spared significant tragedy, but times like these leave their mark.
After a little while, we were able to talk about what we were feeling and what questions we were processing. Here are a few highlights.
- We know why our pets die.
Death is one of the saddest and most certain realities of this life. There are few things like death to sober us—whether it be a pet or a fellow image bearer. A cold, stiff body that lacks the life it once supported is a heavy reminder that something is wrong with our world.
So why does death happen? The Bible tells us plainly that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, a curse was put not just on humanity, but on all creation (Genesis 3:14, 19). Because of this, death comes for all of us; people and animals alike.
Some may want to shield their children from discussions of death, but we do not.
In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs Israel with His commands and then gives parents this charge, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Discipleship in the home happens as we live life together, and as we bury pets together. We tell our children that death is in the world because of the curse of sin. All of us will die, and days like these remind us that even our beloved pets are not exempt.
- We don’t know why our pets die when they die.
Death comes for all of us in a time and in a way that is most normally unexpected. Nellie was, as far as we could tell, a healthy little dog. She seemed to go peacefully in her sleep. I have also lost other pets in much more traumatic ways. When my daughter looked at me and said, “Why did she have to die now?” I simply held her and said, “I don’t know.”
God never tells any of us when our time is up. When we love someone, it always seems like our time with them was too short. I encouraged her that our family loved Nellie well, and she loved us in like measure. I also reminded her that we need not be afraid of losing those we love, but we must love them as well as we are able while they are with us.
- God is not cruel, He is caring.
The God of the Bible is not a cruel, distant, absentee father who simply calls His suffering children to “suck it up.” Rather, He gives us precious promises.
One we talked about is from Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
When pets die, it is a fine time to grab a promise from the Lord and allow it to bring you comfort. Again, for some this may seem like a petty thing to bother God with. But I want to assure you it is not. In fact, if your god doesn’t care about the tears of a child who has lost their beloved pet, then your god is too distant. The God of the Bible does not scold us for the kinds of sorrows we have. He meets us in them, whatever they may be, and points us to Himself as our only sure comfort.
- God doesn’t tell us what happens to our pets when they die, but we can trust Him.
Anyone who has ever had a pet die has asked, “will I see them again?” Some give hearty assurances based merely on what they hope will come to pass. But hope is far too precious to cast it on what we desire to be true. It is safer to base our beliefs on what God says is true. And on this issue, He just doesn’t say.
Animals do not have the same hope humans do, because humans are distinctly differently. We are created in God’s image; animals (and angels) are not (Genesis 1:26-27). People have a unique ability to reason among living beings (Psalm 32:9). Jesus came as a man to save mankind, not animals.
Yet the Bible does speak about the presence of animals in the life to come. Isaiah 11:6-8 and Isaiah 65:25 list numerous animals as they describe the eternal kingdom of God. God’s promises of the world to come portray a world in which animals will know the peace they too have longed for (Romans 8:18-25).
I think this gives us good reason to assume that God will fill the New Heavens and New Earth with redeemed image bearers, elect angels, and all sorts of animals. Beyond this, we do not know much.
Will our animals be in heaven? It is best to be honest and say we do not know. I would not be surprised if God, in His generous wisdom, chose to allow us to enjoy the company of familiar animals in glory. But we can be certain of two things.
First, we can be certain that if it will bring God more glory and it will help us to enjoy Him forever, then God will reunite us with our pets. God knows what good gifts to give us, now and for eternity (Luke 11:13). As Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God knows what is good for us to have, so we can trust Him.
Second, we must guard our hearts and not allow love for pets or animals to diminish or love and trust in God. No matter how good any gift God gives us, we must remember that He is the One worthy of our devotion, not the gift itself. Pets included.
So how did I answer my children?
I told them that we don’t know exactly what happens to our pets when they die. But we do know God is good, we can trust Him, He will do what is best, and that I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we saw our pets again in glory. If I’m wrong, that’s fine, there is no serious doctrine in danger, nor are my children’s hopes tied to anything other than God’s wisdom in dealing with His children.