Today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, birds, and the environment. I’ve just been writing this week about nature and our connectedness with it, a theme to which I’ll be returning on Blog Action Day later this month, along with more than 6,500 bloggers registered so far.
When I was a lad, I was told that animals didn’t go to heaven because they didn’t have souls. Well, it seemed a reasonable answer at the time, in the theological system I was situtated in. But that was then, and this is now. Turns out there are a lot of people who disconnect animals, birds, fish, mountains, trees, and the ozone layer from any continuing intention of God. In their estimation, since God intends to destroy it all anyway, it’s dying and there’s no need to bother trying to preserve it when it’s meant for destruction. Only the saints remain. Somehow, this all seems rather hollow to me, and short-sighted. Even if God intends to create a new heaven and a new earth in which we can dwell, why would we want to go about making extra work for him by polluting the raw materials he’ll be working with? Perhaps if we change our ways, the recreation will only take a day or two and in the new world, we’ll end up with a two-day work-week and a five-day weekend.
As for the animals, Tony Campolo is now talking about The Spiritual Lives of Animals, reminding us of St. Francis and of John Wesley with the saying that you can tell a Methodist home by the way they treat their animals. It’s a much older but not so rare one that we’ll see our animal friends in heaven, from our pets to our livestock to the lion and the lamb. There’s enough Biblical language to support the idea, and after all… if an animal doesn’t have a soul, there’s nothing to be inherently corrupt by original-animal-sin, is there? So why not? Wesley believed and taught that you’d find your animals in heaven, and perhaps God would even elevate their state so that we would be able to talk with them. I’m not sure about all of these ideas and I’m not going vegetarian any time soon, but there’s a compelling argument in the simple question, “Why not?”
In the new or renewed view of how we relate to animals and the other aspects of creation, there’s a thinking that it’ll all be redeemed and we’ll be enjoying these things for a while longer yet, even after the second coming. If God is concerned enough for a sparrow to use it as the basis of a comparison to his love and concern for us, it seems a bit odd to think that he’ll eventually snuff them all out. As I’ve been writing this week, it’s important to acknowledge our connection with creation… and I’m thinking about the time that God spoke to me through a squirrel, but that’s another story. Some people find me pretty squirrely enough as it is.