A gracEmail subscriber writes: “We are in the process of watching a family dog die, and I’m feeling rather inadequate to prepare my children for this inevitable event. Has God no further use for animals after life on earth? I would appreciate your thoughts.”
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I don’t know any New Testament passage that clearly says animals will inhabit the Age to Come. However the prophet Isaiah includes animals in his portrayals of God’s promised future (Isa. 11:6-9; 65:17, 25). The Apostle Paul also says that “creation itself” awaits its final redemption, which could easily include its animal residents as well (Rom. 8:18-22). Whatever their future, God has created a vast multitude and variety of animals here and now — for the benefit and pleasure of human beings, to be sure, but that is only part of God’s creative purpose.
God also made his creatures for his own sheer joy. Upon completing his creation, God pronounced it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). The Lord is “glad in his works” (Psalm 104:31). The world does not exist merely for us. This truth pricks our vanity, but it has not been missed by the poets. “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,” reflected Thomas Gray, in his wonderful Elegy composed in the church-yard of his parish church at Stoke Poges, England. A century later, Ralph Waldo Emerson echoed the point from the other side of the Atlantic. “Beauty is its own excuse for being,” mused Emerson after finding a rhodora blooming deep in the woods. God, not man, is the real center of all things.
When we lose a pet, we may use the occasion as an opportunity for teaching children that death is part of the present fallen order of things, that grieving is appropriate and natural, and that in the end God will have the last word over death itself. We may also tell our children, I think, that God created their pets also, that he even sees and cares about the death of a little bird, and that he is able to reunite us with our pets in the Age to Come if he sees that is best for them and for us (Matt. 10:29; Lk. 12:7).