Do animals have souls?
It is Kent Hoffman who tells the story of the young man who falls in with a group of door-to-door evangelists. The evangelists’ strategy is predicated on two questions. The first question is, “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?” And if the answer given by the person standing inside the door upon which they have knocked is anything other than “heaven,” then they have their in, and they begin to tell that person about Jesus.
If the person’s answer is “heaven,” then the evangelists’ second question comes out: “How do you know?” And if the response is anything other than, “Because I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior,” then they have their in, and they begin to tell that person about Jesus.
One Saturday morn, the young man and his new friends knock on a door, and they wait for a moment or two until it is opened by another young man. The second young man is wearing a bathrobe, his hair is wild, and he is smiling. The evidence of his sleepy eyes is that he is just out of bed and that, perhaps, the night before was a festive one for him.
And so the evangelists begin. “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?” The young man thinks for a moment, and then he says:
Question two. “How do you know?” And the young man smiles even more broadly and replies:
Because it wouldn’t be heaven without me.
How do we know that animals have souls, that they are full participants in the Kingdom of God? Well, because it wouldn’t be the Kingdom without them.
Scripture repeatedly tells us that the joyous work of responding to the Divine with service and praise is not confined to human beings. Consider 1Chronicles 16:33, in which the trees sing with joy before the Lord. Consider Psalm 69, in which everything that moves in the sea praises God. Consider the famous prophecy in Isaiah 11, in which the Kingdom looks like all of the world’s creatures living together peaceably. Consider Deuteronomy, in which Moses twice calls heaven and earth – in other words, all of creation – as witnesses (as an aside, given humanity’s current treatment of the environment, I am pretty nervous about the testimony that heaven and earth would give against us on the witness stand). I bet that we could come up with still more examples.
Even if we didn’t have these passages to draw upon, Clare, I would still feel pretty confident about telling you that animals have souls, that they are filled with the breath of God. That’s because I am convinced that God is not in the exclusion business. As Ellen Clark-King provocatively and marvelously puts it, God’s love is promiscuous. (That old episode of the Twilight Zone – “The Hunt” – gets it right when it proclaims that you know that you’ve made it to the promised land when your dog is welcome to join you.) And that’s also because you need look no further that a beloved pet’s eyes when you are in the midst of big grief or big love to know that your pet is right there with you, to know that your pet’s soul is walking alongside your own, to know that it wouldn’t be heaven without them.
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