Q. I have recently lost a pet who I loved dearly, due to cancer. There is no mention in the Bible about pet/owner relationships nor about any spiritual connection concerning them. In fact, any loving relationship with an animal can not be found (to the best of my knowledge). Yet if I loved my pet, how can a God who is love not be involved in the matter? Were we not placed here to look after his creations? Will we ever be together again in the resurrection? Or is this love shared between owner and pet lost forever in time, a memory that will just become dust again? I am looking for some solace. Surely God can not be so indifferent on the matter.
Please see this post, which I hope will be an encouragement to you:
Q. Will I see my pet dog in heaven? I miss her every day. She has passed on due to a hit and run accident 4 years ago. At first when it happened, I was very upset with God. I couldn’t understand why he allowed this to happen. I entrusted my dog’s safety to him. But over the years, I saw how God used her death for good purposes and slowly, I heal. I kept wishing and hoping that I would see her again but I fear so much that it wouldn’t happen.
I haven’t found a specific, direct answer to your question in the Bible, but my personal belief is that yes, we will see our beloved pets again in heaven.
I base this answer not so much on a particular biblical teaching as on the overall biblical message, that God’s salvation is intended to renew the entire creation. It is not limited to the regeneration of human souls and the eventual resurrection of human bodies. God wants to restore the creation to its original harmony and beauty, and originally humans lived with animals peacefully and cooperatively.
So I don’t see why heaven wouldn’t bring back this arrangement, and I don’t see why individual animals who lived on earth wouldn’t get in on it, just as individual humans who lived on earth will. Certainly the biblical prophets’ visions of God’s renewed creation include animals, and they are living once again in harmony with one another and with humans. As Isaiah says, for example:
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
So while, as I said, I can’t cite a specific biblical passage that answers your question directly, I think you have every reason to hope confidently that you will see your friend again.
Q. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” How do we reconcile this statement with receiving forgiveness for our sins? I know many of the forgiveness verses but struggle with reconciling them with verses like this one.
The difficulty you’re feeling is a classic example of what happens when the Bible is presented to us as a collection of “verses.” There are some biblical statements that simply can’t be reconciled with others if we take them to mean what they appear to say in isolation from their contexts. But when we do consider them in context, we typically realize that they’re not quite saying those things, and that they can be reconciled.
I think the statement you’re asking about, which Paul makes in Second Corinthians, cannot refer to us being punished for our sins, because only a little bit afterwards, he asserts once again that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” So then what does Paul mean by the statement you quote?
When we consider it in its context, we see that Paul is contrasting his own ministry with that of the rival teachers who had come to Corinth and who were trying to establish themselves by putting Paul down. In the very next paragraph he says, “We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart.”
In other words, it will all be sorted out at “the judgment seat of Christ.” Don’t listen to what those rival teachers are saying about me, Paul says; for that matter, don’t listen to what they’re saying about themselves. Christ knows who the people are who are faithfully following him now, and he will acknowledge them before his heavenly throne. And Christ also knows the people who are fakes, who are claiming to follow him but who are really only out for themselves, and he will expose them before his heavenly throne.
That isn’t our job here on earth. We can take people at face value, at their word. If they say they are sincerely following Christ, then we can work with them on that basis and trust that God will bring good fruit out of any ministry we have with them—so long as we pay careful attention to any “alarm bells” that warn us not to associate with a person who would be manipulative, exploitive, or abusive, to us or to others. There is a certain discernment we are called to, but it stops short of guessing what’s in another person’s heart.
So the statement you’re asking about isn’t a threat or warning about punishment for our sins. God no longer counts those against us, because we are reconciled to him in Christ. Rather, it’s an encouragement to leave it to Christ to judge in the end the nature of anyone’s ministry, and to work in good faith with anyone who names the name of Christ and appears to be of honest and trustworthy character. We can be confident that glory will ultimately go to that name, both now on earth as ministry is done, and later in heaven as everyone’s motives, good or bad, are shown for all to see.
Q. Some people say that if you are going to heaven, you go right away after you die. Others think that you just “sleep” until the second coming. (One snag in this idea might be Jesus saying to the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with me in Paradise.”) What do you think?
You’re actually asking about an issue that has been the subject of continual debate throughout the history of the Christian church. References to controversy over the subject extend back to at least the AD 240s. The debate remains lively today.
The actual issue is whether the soul is immortal, in which case it survives death, or whether it is mortal, in which case it dies with the body and is resurrected with the body, or else it “sleeps” until the body is resurrected (perhaps “dreaming,” as some have suggested, of life in the person’s future ultimate state). There is, of course, no philosophical discussion in the Bible as to the mortality or immortality of the soul. (The Bible isn’t that kind of book.) So we have to try to come to some conclusion about this based on what the Bible does say.
Without intending any disrespect for the view that the soul is mortal, since this view has a long and venerable pedigree in Christian theology, let me nevertheless cite some passages in the Bible that lead me to believe that the soul is immortal, and that believers who die therefore pass directly and consciously into the presence of God:
• The author of Hebrews writes that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” I believe this means more than that the lives of faithful people, catalogued just before this statement (Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, etc.), are witnesses and inspiring examples to us. I believe the author is saying that such people are currently witnesses of our lives, so that we should “run the race” in the awareness that they are in the grandstands, as it were, cheering us on. But this means that they would have to be conscious and aware, looking on from a heavenly vantage point.
• In several places the psalmists express what seems to be the lively expectation of going immediately and consciously into God’s presence when they die, for example:
– In Psalm 16, “You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead . . . you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand”;
– Near the end of Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”;
– Perhaps best known, in Psalm 23, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
• As you mentioned, Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him “today” in Paradise.
These are only a few of the passages that could be considered in support of the immortality of the soul. I don’t doubt that proponents of soul mortality would counter with some passages of their own. This is, in short, a question on which people of good will who are equally committed to the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures have long disagreed. So we each need to be “fully convinced in our own minds” but respectful of the other position.
Still, as I said, all things considered, my overall sense from the Bible is that the soul of a believer does pass directly and consciously into the presence of God upon death.
Q. Paul mentions that he knew of a man caught up to the third heaven (which he proceeds to call a paradise). Is there more information about each of the seven heavens in the canonical books of the Bible? There is some information in books not included in the canon (the book of Enoch, for example). How trustworthy is this information?
When he speaks of the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians, Paul most likely means the place of God’s abode. His language echoes the cosmology found throughout the Bible in which the “first heaven” is the firmament or sky, in which the sun shines and birds fly; the “second heaven” is the “waters above the firmament”; and the “third heaven” is the place of God’s throne: according to Psalm 104, God “lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters” (i.e. the waters of the second heaven). And so when Psalm 148 says “Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies,” it’s saying, in a poetic parallel, “Praise him, you third heaven, and you second heaven.”
But Paul doesn’t do much more than allude to this cosmology. He does refer to the “third heaven” also as “paradise,” which could mean the blessed abode of departed souls. But we can’t say for sure, because Paul quickly shuts down his story by saying that “no one is permitted to tell” about the things seen and heard there.
This single and simple New Testament account of a journey into heaven contrasts strikingly with other more highly elaborated accounts from this period. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament notes, “The reserve which leads [Paul] to make only a brief reference distinguishes his account from the fantastic descriptions of heavenly journeys by contemporary Hellenistic mystics and Jewish apocalyptists.” One of these is found in the book of Enoch, which describes seven heavens, and there are similar descriptions in other apocalyptic works.
But I think we do well to take our cue from Paul’s reticence and not speculate about various “heavens” and what they might contain. His real point in telling this story was that he had all the credentials of an apostle, including visions and revelations, but that even so he should be recognized as genuine by the way God’s power shone through his weakness.
That being the case, even someone today who was entrusted with a vision of heaven should probably be very reserved about how much of it they shared. And we should probably be wary of the “fantastic descriptions of heavenly journeys” in books like Enoch. If the Bible doesn’t want to tell us much about such things, then there are much better areas of inquiry that we can more profitably devote ourselves to.
In your study guide to Revelation, are you saying that the lake of fire isn’t a real place?
In session 23 of the Daniel/Revelation study guide I observe that “it’s impossible for a literal fire to burn a finite amount of fuel forever,” so that the image of the lake of fire near the end of Revelation shouldn’t be taken to mean that those who definitively reject a relationship with God will “burn up forever.” Rather, this image represents the way that people who reject God “will be separated permanently from him, they will always be objects of his displeasure, and they will never receive the comfort and satisfaction that God gives those who do live in his presence.”
In session 24 I observe that shortly after Revelation depicts all those whose names are not written in the book of life being thrown in the lake of fire, it says that only those whose names are written in the book of life may enter the New Jerusalem; all others will be kept outside its gates. I then ask, “If these same people have already been thrown into the lake of fire, why do they need to be denied entrance to this city?” I conclude that “the details of these two visions can’t be reconciled by a literal reading, but this only shows that both are meant to be understood symbolically. . . . Two different figures are used, but their message is the same: those who definitively reject God will be kept out of his presence, while those who remain loyal and faithful, even through sacrifice and suffering, will live forever with God in a place of splendor and glory.”
More generally, it’s impossible to read the visions throughout Revelation both literally and sequentially. For example, the sun is destroyed when the sixth seal is opened, but shortly afterwards, when the fourth trumpet sounds, the sun is shining in full strength, because one third of its light is then dimmed. Examples like this show us that we need to interpret Revelation symbolically.
That’s why, throughout this guide, I seek to explain the meaning of the symbols in Revelation as allusions to other images in the Scriptures, particularly Daniel and the prophetic books, or else as echoes of images that would have been recognizable from the surrounding culture. The great prostitute who sits on seven hills, for example, evokes the popular idea of Rome as the “city of seven hills.” For its part, the lake of fire may echo the Greek idea of the underworld containing a river of fire. But more important than the source of these images is the use John makes of them to communicate God’s purposes for the culmination of history.
And whatever we believe about the actual ultimate circumstances of those who reject God’s gracious offer of forgiveness and a restored relationship, we should make every effort, by our words, personal example, and loving service, to urge and encourage everyone we know to accept this offer.