The Saviour of Man and Beast Will I see my cat or dog in heaven?
Years ago, I presented a lecture about the new earth at a congregational meeting .During intermission, brother Piet Los, neurologist in Amersfoort, came to me with a twinkle in the eyes, with the question, “Reverend, will my faithful dog be there as well?”
I answered, “Brother Los, surely you know what is written,‘ Outside are the dogs…” (Rev. 22:15)
Joking aside, the question posed by brother Los presented the occasion for writing this article. In Reformed eschatology (the doctrine of last things), animals, alas, play a very marginal role. I think, unjustly. Psalm 36:6 announces to us: “Man and beast you save, O Lord.”
The Whole Creation
We often think in too limited a way about God’s salvation. Our confessions speak practically only about the eternal bliss of God’s children. The future of all of creation remains nebulous. However, Paul in Romans 8, puts our future in a cosmic perspective. Not only we sigh, but all of creation sighs and looks forward longingly to the day of deliverance out of the slavery of being perishable. A glorious future is waiting for it; it will share in the freedom and splendour which will be granted to God’s children!
We too easily forget that our God will make all things new (Rev. 21:5). All things…the world of animals also belongs to that.
Then it is not by chance that, in the prophecies about the coming kingdom of peace, we also hear about animals (Is. 11:6f), among them also the beasts of prey. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain” (Is. 11:9). God will wipe away every tear. Also all the suffering of animals will be past! That which we read about our Saviour in Mark 1:13: “And he was with the wild animals” is as a beam of light from the kingdom of peace.
How thankful we need to be to our Lord God that we, as people, have fellow creatures! I never hear thanks expressed for this in church, yet I shudder to think that there would be no animals. For many years I had a cocker spaniel — alas, this good animal was unrepentedly liberal reformed, but how I enjoyed that mischief maker! How much joy we receive from the cheerfulness of birds. And how much we enjoy a good steak in its time and place. How much enjoyment do our children not receive from a guinea pig or a kitten.
The Bible teaches us to have respect for our fellow creatures because they also have been given to us by our Creator. It is noteworthy that precisely in Genesis 1, animals are typified as “living creatures”. That is not said about the plants, trees, sun or moon. However impressive all that may be, they are not “living creatures”. In that we see the uniqueness of animals. Just as we, they are “living creatures”; they are not as intelligent as we are; they know no self-assertion, but meanwhile! How clever they are and how well they know their ways.
We can learn so many things from them, for example the ant (Pr. s 6:6), and the rock badger (Pr. 30:26), not to mention the snake and the dove (Matt. 10:16). It must always make an impression on us that the Lord did not totally destroy the animals, but that in the ark built by Noah, there was also room for the animals. They also were preserved through the water. It is striking that the so-called covenant with Noah was not with people alone, but with “every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth” (Gen. 9:16).
In how far the animals are not to be viewed in the same way with plants and trees, is also shown in the special permission received by Noah “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything” (Gen. 9:3).
Dear reader, when you eat that tasty morsel of one of your fellow creatures, do think about it that man was a vegetarian long before and that only after the flood because of sin, man received permission to enjoy (a) fish. Let what is given to you make you thankful and make you realize: it is not something to take for granted!
According to my insight, animals occupied a place of honour when they were allowed to stand in our stead. One must stand continuously amazed that the Lord accepted the blood of animals for centuries in the old covenant. The man who sinned had to die, but our gracious God accepted the substitution of animals in our stead.Their blood turned away God’s wrath, but it was blood that God gave with which to make atonement (Lev. 17:11). Israel could not just come with a beloved house pet, but had to honour the Lord as the Giver of all that has life. God accepted the animals from Israel to imprint on the Israelites the wonder of substitutionary atonement. Everything pointed to him who truly came to stand in our stead and as the Lamb of God to bear our sins!
Now that I am retired, I eagerly anticipate notifications about the kingdom of animals. I go from one amazement to the next. How wonderfully the Lord has made all those animals and how I would love to know what goes on in those limited brains! How wonderfully some birds can weave a nest, meanwhile others just muddle around a bit on the ground. How strange that lions are so bloodthirsty, meanwhile caring so tenderly for their cubs. A crocodile is a primitive monster, but she does, in great concern, take her newly hatched young into her mouth.
Cruelty and love exist side by side in a mysterious manner in the animal kingdom since the Fall into sin. When I see this, I think about what Paul writes about the sighing of the whole creation.
Christ as Saviour
We must see the work of our Saviour in a broad perspective. He saves not only God’s children; he frees all creation from the curse of mortality. In our experience, there is too little attention to the cosmic meaning of the Lord Jesus. It is he through whom God makes all things new. Also for our fellow creatures, the animals, He is the Saviour, who in the end makes it true: “Man and beast you save, O Lord” (Ps. 36:6).
We see this broad perspective, for example, when we read what Paul writes about our Saviour in Colossians 1. There also, we encounter the word “all”. The apostle writes that God, through him, reconciles all things to himself, the things that are on earth as well as the things that are in heaven. All things, thus no exception for the animals!
I experience comfort in that which Paul preaches in Ephesians 1, where he writes that in the fullness of time, everything will again be united in Christ, that which is in heaven as well as that which is on the earth. The surprising part lies in the plan of God (Eph. 1:10). The glory of paradise will be restored! In the fullness of time, Christ will unite everything that now is still so broken and strikes us in such a discordant way.
The apostle teaches us that Christ’s work has universal meaning. It concerns all of creation, therefore also the animals. There will be an end to their sighing too! The idyllic world of Isaiah will become reality; the cow and the bear sow will graze together!
God Does Not Forget the Animals
We see in the laws of Moses how much God is concerned with the wellbeing of our fellow creatures. A threshing ox may not be muzzled (Deut. 25:4). The female bird which is sitting on her eggs or young hatchlings may not be taken (Deut. 22:6). The fourth commandment teaches Israel that there is also rest for domestic animals (Ex. 20:10).
The conclusion of the book of Jonah always strikes a chord with me, where we read about God’s sorrow about all the animals which would come to their destruction in Nineveh.
With tsunamis and earth quakes, we are shocked at the devastation that comes over the people. But, do we truly realize what our beloved fellow creatures must experience? How terrible it is that at that time so many animals are killed!
Diverse psalms witness God’s care of the animals. For example, Psalm 104 proclaims God’s involvement with the animals. The earth is, as it were, God’s place of provision; as a good Father of a household, he thinks of the animals and gives them their food in season. I think it is beautiful that the poet prays, “may the Lord rejoice in his works”. Apparently, the animals also give God joy. For me, this is the deepest motivation for the protection of animals! It is not, in the first place, about our “friends”, or about coming generations, but it is about the enjoyment of our God in all that came forth from his hands!
The apostle John writes: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2). “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). It has not yet been revealed how wonderful we will be. That also applies to our fellow creatures, the animals. A great surprise remains! The words “new world” (Matt. 19:28), “restoring” (Acts 3:21) and “removal of things that are shaken” (Heb. 12:27), assure us that our God will remain faithful to his creation and will not let go of that which his hands began.
Yes, still more. Reformed theology has always spoken about glorification. The latter will be more than the former. As you compare Genesis 2 with Revelation 21, you clearly see the progress. There are no longer any wicked, threatening forces; God dwells with his people; even his glory gives us light. God’s alpha is indeed less than his omega! God be thanked; we will not be delivered out of the world, but with his world we will be glorified in the future. Also with the animals.
Will Doctor Los’ dog be there in the future, not to mention my self-conceited spaniel? We must not forget that all that talk about “mine” belongs to the “form” of this world. That form (schema) is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31). Presently, Doctor Los’ question will be totally irrelevant, for he asked the question based on the present! I think (and hope) that there will be dogs on the new earth. But “my dog” will then be a passé way of speaking. That word “my” belongs to this dispensation. You need not be sorrowful about that, for Christ and his Father will be everything for us and will cause us to share eternally in their kingdom of peace where nobody, also no animal, will ever shed a tear!