While we were away for Thanksgiving with our two daughters who live in New York, our middle daughter, Erin, called with the drastic news that her 13 1/2 year old white lab, whom she named Hannah Marie Furr-Yeager (any other dogs with hyphenated names?), passed away from kidney failure. Her husband just called her, , “Good Girl”. She got Hannah as a pup when Erin was 19 years old. Erin wrote on facebook,
“She was the “mascot” of our entire group of friends in our 20’s. She has been with me through college, roommates, first job, first love, heart break, job loss, first home, success, failure, marriage and all of life’s “in betweens”. .. Always there….always letting me know she was present. She was always waiting on us just to call her so she could be there. She got so much joy just from being with us.”
I have found myself quite moved by the depth of love my daughter has for Hannah, and for the intensity of grief that has followed. It caused me to ask the old question, “Do dogs go to heaven?” This is not a question I have spent time on before, and I must say, it indicates a deep deficiency in my theology. As I read about this online I came upon a variety of opinions, one on a website that also had articles like, “Is Smoking Cigarettes A Sin?” ” What Do Christians Believe About Dinosaurs?” and “Does The Bible say What the Devil Looks Like?” Not too promising, if you ask me.
I don’t intend to belabor the subject except to reflect that perhaps, “Do dogs go to heaven?” is the wrong question. The right question is, “Does God the Creator love the creation?” The answer is unequivocal. God is not simply redeeming a handful of lifeboat survivors but is renewing creation itself (Romans 8 treats this in extended fashion). The power of life that creates what we call “heaven” is in fact resurrection, the power of God to raise life from death and “re-create” creation. So, it seems to me, that if heaven is not “a place way out there” separate from creation but is, instead, God’s merciful and loving Providence, then it is not impossible at all to imagine that God, who remembers all things, is able to bring all those joyful complexities of creation to new life. The Bible talks about the end of “tooth and claw” nature, where Lion and Lamb lie together and the child plays safely near the adder.
These visionary imaginations of the prophets remind us to be respectful and humble about what the Creator can or will do at the end of all things. God’s love and greatness are vast. The answer to my question, “Does God love the creation?” is “Of course.” Trust in the love of your Creator.
I love the old story on “The Twilight Zone,” called “The Hunt,” about an old man and his beloved hound who drown during a coon hunt and wind up on a road where they must choose heaven or hell. The old man was played by Arthur Hunnicutt, the crusty Arkansas native who often played outdoorsy types. The screenplay was written by Earl Hamner, later the creator of “The Waltons” series. Ultimately, it is his dog Rip who helps him make the right choice. My favorite line: The angel says, “You see Mr. Simpson, a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”
For those of us who live so detached from nature, feeding from its bounty but unaware of the connection, it is a good reminder to us of our own creaturehood. We are not so different from our pets and not so lofty in our uniqueness that we can act as though we are not sharing creaturehood with them.
Hannah Marie was a wonderful pet. I told Erin, “I have buried a lot of humans who weren’t loved as much in life, missed so much in death or commemorated so deeply by her survivors, as Hannah.” And I might add, “They hadn’t done nearly as much to offer loyalty, devotion and comfort to those in their life.” I’d side with those who think dogs will be there, myself. Given the way we treat one another, I’d think it would be the dogs who should be asking the question about us. Given a choice of hanging out with Hannah or a lot of humans I’ve met through the years, it’s no contest who would be more fit for eternal happiness without a major overhaul.