My husband and I were waiting to see the eye doctor and overheard a very disturbing conversation. An older woman was speaking very loudly to the eye specialist behind the counter about her recent woes. She told the specialist that it had been a bad month for her because she would be bringing her mother home from the hospital to reside in her care for the last short hospice of her life. The woman also said that her precious dog had recently passed as well.
The surprising part was what followed. The woman unabashedly proclaimed that if she had to choose between her mother and her dog, she would have chosen the dog! She admitted that it was extreme, but also that her dog was her companion and best friend. The eye specialist had certainly gotten more than she bargained for when asking the routine question of how the woman was doing.
In processing the woman’s words, she left us with a final statement before leaving the waiting room. “I hope that when I get to heaven God will let me stay in the part with the animals and take care of them. I admit that it will be hurtful to my mother that I will not want to stay in the section of heaven with her, but I just love animals so much.”
Coming from a child, the idea of wanting to take care of the animals in heaven is very sweet and endearing. However, from the mouth of a seasoned woman who would soon face the death of her own mother, it was just really sad.
Before I could jump to judgment however, I recalled a younger version of myself and the outrage experienced during my first Theology course upon learning that animals do not go to heaven. It is with embarrassment now that I reflect back to how I had demanded an explanation from the priest teaching the course. In great charity he said to me that if pets are in heaven, it is because God wills our ultimate happiness there and not because they deserve to be there on account of their own virtue. This humble answer completely changed my heart on the matter, making perfect sense.
The truth is that we as human beings can become so easily attached to pets, who love us with abandon despite our faults and failings. A pet aims to please and does not choose to leave us when times get tough. Instinctively some pets will even sacrifice their own lives to save ours. Truly, it is safer to love a pet than to love a human being who thinks and reasons and wills. With these faculties a human being is capable of choosing and they may not always choose God, truth, or us.
Deeper explanation for those who are saddened by the idea of their furry friend not accompanying them into eternity is that while all living things have a soul (which animates their body), only the soul of man is immortal. For this reason man is given intelligence and reason and is ultimately held accountable for the actions of his will. Man reflects the image and likeness of God and all men, from the greatest to the most abominable, are endowed with an immortal soul.
It is hard to conceptualize the ultimate joy and peace experienced in heaven in the presence of the Almighty, but it is with great confidence that we can be sure that our favorite things, experiences, and even pets will pale in comparison.
Copyright 2014 Kimberly Cook