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.
I have this theory. It begins with my belief that heaven and angels (wherever and whatever that is) predate the creation of the earth. Next is the biblical record of prophetic descriptions of angelic beings, for example:
Eze 10:14 Each of the cherubim had four faces: One face was that of a cherub, the second the face of a man, the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.
Eze 10:21 Each had four faces and four wings, and under their wings was what looked like the hands of a man.
Rev 4:7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.
If angels predate earth, and if the prophets’ best descriptions of those beings compared them to animals on earth, not only does that imply that God thinks rather highly of the form he gave to the animals on earth, but I suspect that he created animals in the physical image of angelic beings.
I used to try to accept that there wouldn’t be animals in heaven, but the more i learn of the bible the more convinced i am that we’ll be quite familiar with most everything we see when we enter the throne room, including animals.