Mar 12, 2007

John Wesley on Animals in Heaven

Questions about heaven come up in conversations for both believers and unbelievers. Death seems to bring most of these questions to mind. One question I get asked is, "Will my cat Sammy be in heaven?" Children are quick to ask this since they usually experience the death of a pet before the death of a parent or other family member. There's obviously more important questions that need to be asked before this one, but I think it's necessary to address.

The first thought that usually came to my mind when asked this question was, "Who cares. Animals don't have a soul, they don't have a conscience, and Jesus died to save only humans and forgive them of there sins." I've recently begun to change my attitude about this.

In the creation account of the Bible (Genesis 1-2), God created the animals on days five and six. First the fish and birds, then all the other animals. And for both, "God saw that it was good." We also see God create mankind on day six and He places man in charge of the animals (1:26,28) and the man gives each of them names (2:19-20).

John Wesley says at this point of creation, the animals "had gratitude to man for benefits received, and a reverence for him. They had likewise a kind of benevolence to each other, unmixed with any contrary temper. How beautiful many of them were, we may conjecture from that which still remains; and that not only in the noblest creatures, but in those of the lowest order. And they were all surrounded, not only with plenteous food, but with every thing that could give them pleasure; pleasure unmixed with pain; for pain was not yet; it had not entered into paradise. And they too were immortal: For 'God made not death; neither hath he pleasure in the death of any living.' (Wesley's sermon #60.1.5 "The Great Deliverance").

Then in Genesis 3 comes the Fall , as theologians call it, when mankind sins. When this happened, did some kind of fall occur with the animals? Since God created "every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man" in the garden to be named, wouldn't they have to be tame? Today, it's pretty obvious to see that many animals are more violent than others.

For example, my dog ("Ike") is much friendlier than a cat? And not just any household cat, but wild cats. Is there something that my dog understands better than a cat? He’s more submissive to me than a tiger, he’s more friendly than a panther, and a lot less uptight than a lion. Is it because of his nature and surroundings? Have some animals always been more violent than others? What makes a mountain lion more dangerous to be around than a household pet? These are all questions I think about, and wonder if it was like this from the beginning of creation, or did their disposition occur as a result of the Fall.

Wesley addresses this issue as well. “As man is deprived of his perfection, his loving obedience to God; so brutes are deprived of their perfection, their loving obedience to man. The far greater part of them flee from him; studiously avoid his hated presence. The most of the rest set him at open defiance; yea, destroy him, if it be in their power. A few only, those we commonly term domestic animals, retain more or less of their original disposition, (through the mercy of God) love him still, and pay obedience to him" (sermon #60.2.2).

In addition, he goes into detail about what occured to the animals once mankind fell from his state of perfection. "The whole animated creation, whatever has life, from leviathan to the smallest mite, was thereby made subject to such vanity, as the inanimate creatures could not be. They were subject to that fell monster, DEATH, the conqueror of all that breathe. They were made subject to its fore-runner, pain, in its ten thousand forms; although "God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the death of any living." How many millions of creatures in the sea, in the air, and on every part of the earth, can now no otherwise preserve their own lives, than by taking away the lives of others; by tearing in pieces and devouring their poor, innocent, unresisting fellow-creatures! Miserable lot of such innumerable multitudes, who, insignificant as they seem, are the offspring of one common Father; the creatures of the same God of love! It is probable not only two-thirds of the animal creation, but ninety-nine parts of a hundred, are under a necessity of destroying others in order to preserve their own life! But it shall not always be so" (Wesley's sermon #64.17 "New Creation").

It shall not always be so! So what's next for them? They will not always continue in this state of survival of the fittest. Romans 8:19-22 makes it pretty clear, "For ALL creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, ALL creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that ALL creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." We can conclude that creation includes the animal kingdom, and they too are groaning for redemption. They too desire to be made right as they were when God created them, just as humans do.

God is interested in redeeming all of creation, even the entire earth. All throughout the Scriptures, there is mention of a new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; Job 19:25-27). So the question, "Will animals go to heaven when they die," for me, is a question of where one believes heaven is located. Wesley believed what the Scriptures state, that heaven will come to earth.

He says, "He that sitteth upon the throne will soon change the face of all things, and give a demonstrative proof to all his creatures that "his mercy is over all his works." The horrid state of things which at present obtains, will soon be at an end. On the new earth, no creature will kill, or hurt, or give pain to any other. The scorpion will have no poisonous sting; the adder, no venomous teeth. The lion will have no claws to tear the lamb; no teeth to grind his flesh and bones. Nay, no creature, no beast, bird, or fish, will have any inclination to hurt any other; for cruelty will be far away, and savageness and fierceness be forgotten. So that violence shall be heard no more, neither wasting or destruction seen on the face of the earth. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb," (the words may be literally as well as figuratively understood) "and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: They shall not hurt or destroy," from the rising up of the sun, to the going down of the same. (sermon #64.17).

God is in the process of redeeming the entire creation to its original state, which includes animals (both domestic and wild).

Some additional questions:
1. Do Wesleyans believe in an "escapist theology" which says that we won't have anything to do with this earth in the future state of things? In other words, is heaven "up there" somewhere, or will it be right here among us?

2. If God plans to redeem animals to there original state when he created them, what does that tell us about God?

3. I'm not a vegetarian by any means, but if this is God's plan, how should we treat animals and the rest of creation right now, so that we can be a part of the process of bringing "heaven to earth"?

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