Friday, February 19, 2010

The Definitive Teaching About Dogs and Heaven

There's been a little bit of lull in my blogging lately. And my Facebookin'. And, in fact, across much of the other non-essential activities of my existence. The reason for that is the introduction into our household of a little scampering bundle of lickity affection. After forty-one orbits around the sun, and a full year of lobbying from my nine year old, I have a dog for the very first time.

Ellie is an eight week old blend of Golden Retriever and Standard Poodle. She eats, she sleeps, she runs in crazy little circles. I haven't been this focused on feeding schedules and their resultant output since my younger son was a tot. It's not as intense, as she's far lower maintenance than an equivalent toddler. She's tiring, but in an utterly-worth-it sort of way. I am, as the missus puts it, totally smitten.

In one of those synchronous events, one of the blogs I feed pitched out a musing about dogs the other day. It's the blog of a leader of one of the most ferociously hard-core conservative cells within my denomination. Carmen tends to look for things that trouble her in the church, signs of liberality and progressivism and the creeping influence of secular/Wiccan/socialist/French heresies. Here, though, she was "going after" a church that allows dogs in it's services. It seemed tailor-made for harrumphing. Not taking worship seriously! Not showing respect to the orderly praise of the Creator of the Universe! Only, try as she might, she couldn't quite bring herself to get into high dudgeon about it. Because she..well..she loves dogs. It's hard to get all ornery about them, even if being ornery is your favorite hobby.

The conversation that followed among her commenters surfaced the classic question asked by every earnest 12 year old: Does little Barky go to heaven? One of her readers said no, for reasons that probably have to do with having presuppositional apologetics beating in their chest where their heart should be. But the majority (true-believing conservatives all) said, um, maybe. Probably. It'd be nice if they did. That's not a good enough answer, though. In my capacity as the Pastor Who Spends Way Too Much Time Thinking About Things (tm), I will now offer up the definitive Christian answer to that question: Yes.

Why yes? Well, let me elucidate. First, from scripture.

The Bible doesn't spend a whole heck of a lot of time talking about the eternal lives of canines, felines, gerbils, and hamsters. For some reason, this probably didn't seem like the highest priority for an ancient Semitic people. But as we look at how creatures are directly approached in the Hebrew Scriptures, it's clear that there are some moral and spiritual obligations towards the animals in our care. From the Torah, we hear in the 10 Commandments that the Sabbath is to be kept sacred by all. A day of rest is to be given not just to those who are part of Israel, but also to the stranger in the land and the bondservant...and to the animals. This assertion of care for the well-being of domestic animals is repeated in the Exodus teachings about the value of the Sabbath. Critters get included in.

Now, some might say this is simply utilitarian. You got to keep 'em rested, so they can work harder and/or taste better. There is no spiritual component to this, some might say. But in the Writings, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes speaks directly to the question of the spirit behind the inscrutable eyes of your cat. The answer, from this wisest of the wise souls in the Bible, is that there is no difference between humankind and animals. We are all creatures of earth. We are all animated by the same breath.

So on the infrequent occasions that the Bible teaches directly about the non-human beings around us, it seems to point to the strong possibility of animals sharing in whatever our eternal destiny may be.

But there are deeper Christian theological principles at play here too...which I'll deal with in my next post.