Background Text: Job 12:9-10
Devotional Text: Isaiah 65:25
This Sunday we are holding a special presentation, the blessing of the animals. We do not do it inside, but in the pavilion at the park behind the church.
I love to see which of God’s creatures will be brought in for a blessing. In the past, we have had the usual cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. Sometimes we see sheep, curly-haired goats, chickens, ducks, iguanas, many types of lizards, and even a sugar glider (a tiny animal from Australia that can glide).
Our organist brings his keyboard, and we sing hymns such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
Many churches hold a blessing for the animals in recognition of St. Francis of Assisi, known as the patron saint of animals. Born in Italy circa 1181, his love of God included all creatures. He would talk to and pray for the animals of the forest.
We still have words from his preaching to the birds: “My brother birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and love him always. He clothed you with feathers and gave you wings for flying. Among all his creatures, He made you free and gave you the purity of the air. You neither sow nor reap, He nevertheless governs you without your least care.”
His most famous work is his “Canticle of the Creatures,” also known as the “The Canticle of Brother Sun.” It is too long to include here, but it is a beautiful praise to God and his creation.
For the blessing of the animals, we use an animal-themed call to worship, with Scripture from Genesis 1:20-25 and Matthew 6:25-29. We read a thanksgiving for God’s creation and ask a blessing on our pets, living and deceased.
Those who have brought their pets bring them forward and we bless them with holy water, giving thanks to God for giving us our wonderful pets that we dearly love. This is such a joyous time for everyone as we watch the various pets and people come forward for the blessing.
The Lion Will Lay Down With the Lamb
It seems that every time we hold an animal blessing service, the question comes up, “Do animals go to heaven when they die?”
There is much conjecture from theologians on this subject. Some say animals do not go to heaven because they do not have souls, or spirits, and they cannot be redeemed.
I am with the group that believes animals will be in heaven. I’m with Narnia author C.S. Lewis, who said, “I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness.”
John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, believed that as there were animals in Eden, they will be restored to their original creation by God in the new heaven and earth. In the new heaven and earth everything will be perfect.
The renowned evangelist Billy Graham believed this too. When asked if dogs go to heaven, he replied, “God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”
Looking at the Bible, I have found Scripture that alludes to this as fact. Let’s look at some of them from both Old and New Testaments.
In Eccleciastes 3:21 we find that people and animals both have a spirit. In the same book, from 12:7, we are told that dust returns to earth, and spirit returns to God.
From the book of Job 12:7-10, we find that all of creation can teach us, and “in God’s hand is the soul of every creature (some translations use “life” instead of “soul”), and the breath of all mankind.”
The prophet Isaiah also spoke about animals in heaven. From 11:6 and 65:25, we find heaven is a place where the “lion will lay down with the lamb... the wolf and the lamb will graze together... neither lion nor serpent shall hurt or destroy.” These are his descriptions from the new heaven and new earth.
Going to Romans in the New Testament, Romans 8:21 states, “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Finally, let’s look to the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
In Revelation 5:8-13, we find “every creature in heaven and on earth praising God.” When we read of Jesus’ return from heaven he is riding on a white horse, as seen in Revelation 19:11-14. He will be accompanied by the armies of heaven, all riding white horses.
Although all of these verses certainly can lead us to think the creatures of the world will enjoy heaven with us (and indeed are said to have both souls and spirits), I think the subject is not made clearer because the entire Bible is written to bring humankind into relationship with God. It is fallen humans who need redemption and salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. That is the Bible’s main purpose.
This last quote comes from the 16th century priest known as the founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. When asked if he thought there would be dogs in heaven, he replied, “Certainly there will be. Peter calls that day the time of restitution of all things. ... There and then, God will be all in all. No animal will eat any other.” Luther also mentioned snakes and toads and other beasts that would no longer be poisonous, but “even pleasing and nice to play with.”
Are the creatures of the earth also loved and cared for by God? The Bible tells us this is so. Will heaven also include all the creatures of the earth? From reading the Scriptures above, I certainly think this is true.