My dog just died. Will I ever see him again?

Our family dog, Boots, died a few days ago. He was a good dog, a giant, slobbering, super-friendly, food-stealing behemoth. When we first saw him he was with a litter of pups in the back of a steel trailer on a farm in Texas. He was lying in the food dish, on top of the food, to keep the other pups from getting what he thought was rightly his. We adopted him and gave him a good life for thirteen years. He was fiercely loyal to his two boys. He kept our yard safe from raccoons, possums, and all other manner of ferocious Ohio wildlife.

Boots and Sean 2

If you’ve ever lost a pet, particularly one you’ve lived with for a long time, you know how hard it is. Our pets become like members of our family. They become part of the rhythm of our lives. It’s going to be strange walking in from work in the evening without being bombarded by a hundred pounds of unfettered canine affection. For our youngest son in particular, losing Boots will be hard. Boots was his friend, movie-making companion, competitor for pretzels and cookies, and sometimes a horse or a tug-of-war opponent.

Sean and boots

Is Boots gone forever? Will we ever see him again? I think all of us who have lost beloved pets would like to know that, in death, they are taken into God’s providential care. Does God care about our pets? Does God care for animals in such a way that, like us, they will have life in the age to come?

For John Wesley, the answer was a definite yes. His sermon “The General Deliverance” shows he certainly thought that the animal world would partake of God’s redemptive new creation. Wesley had a soft spot for animals, which is not surprising since he was a generally compassionate person who spent most of his time on horseback. He believed that, in the world before the Fall, animals and humans lived together in harmony. Today, however, things are different. Among both animals and humans we find violence and savagery. While some animals demonstrate great ferocity, moreover, the cruelty of people far surpasses that of any other species. “The lion, the tiger, or the shark, gives [human beings] pain from mere necessity, in order to prolong their own life; and puts them out of their pain at once: But the human shark, without any such necessity, torments them of his free choice; and perhaps continues their lingering pain till, after months or years, death signs their release” (II.6). We’ve all come across these “human sharks” in our lives.

Christians, however, believe that God will make all things new, and that in the age to come there will be no more violence or cruelty. That is as true of animals as it is of humans. Think of Isaiah’s vision of a future peaceful kingdom:

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea (11:6-9). 

Edward_Hicks_-_Peaceable_Kingdom

The Peaceable Kingdom, by Edward Hicks 

God’s perfect future is not just for people. It is for all creation. As Paul writes,

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now” (Rom 8:19-22). 

In God’s future, things will be different. It’s not just humankind that will be be made new. Everything will be made new. As we read in Revelation 21:5: “And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

Wesley took these passages to heart when thinking about the eschatological fate of the animal world.

But will “the creature,” will even the brute creation, always remain in this deplorable condition? God forbid that we should affirm this; yea, or even entertain such a thought! While “the whole creation groaneth together,” (whether men attend or not) their groans are not dispersed in idle air, but enter into the ears of Him that made them. While his creatures “travail together in pain,” he knoweth all their pain, and is bringing them nearer and nearer to the birth, which shall be accomplished in its season. He seeth “the earnest expectation” wherewith the whole animated creation “waiteth for” that final “manifestation of the sons of God;” in which “they themselves also shall be delivered” (not by annihilation; annihilation is not deliverance) “from the” present “bondage of corruption, into” a measure of “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (“The General Deliverance,” III.1).

And when in Revelation we read, “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev 21:4), Wesley believed that this was true no less for animals than for humans. God will take away all suffering, all sadness and pain, for our furry friends as well as for us.

Oh, and by the way, Pope Francis made a similar comment recently. He probably got the idea from Wesley. 🙂

To those who would say that reflection on the ultimate fate of animals is an idle task, Wesley had a clear response. Reflection on God’s love for all creation “may encourage us to imitate Him whose mercy is over all his works.” Such reflection “may soften our hearts towards the meaner creatures, knowing that the Lord careth for them. It may enlarge our hearts towards those poor creatures, to reflect that, as vile as they appear in our eyes, not one of them is forgotten in the sight of our Father which is in heaven” (III.10). When we think about the character of God, we contemplate such unbounded love as to affect our own thoughts, words, and deeds.

So, yeah, I miss the heck out of Boots. But I also believe that God’s love and grace are for all creation, not just for people. When your beloved pet dies, take some comfort. God’s got this. God’s future is happier and more perfect than we can ever imagine.

11 thoughts on “My dog just died. Will I ever see him again?

  1. God loves not only “sentient beings” as Buddhists voice in the “Four Great Vows”, but “Creation” itself. And it was very good. It shall be restored; hence the New Jerusalem shall come to earth. Why do humans treat earth and creatures as disposable? Why isn’t this a core part of modern Methodism? Salvation of Creation is why Christ became incarnate.

      • This is related to why the General Board of Global Mission sponsors EarthKeepers training sessions. Contact Rev. Jenny Phillips to learn about EarthKeepers and training (from a recent email):

        “Global Ministries will offer three trainings in 2018: May 17-20 in Atlanta (application deadline April 26), Nov 1-4 in Salt Lake City (application deadline Oct 11), and a third that is still in planning. I expect the web page and online application will be available in early March. In the meantime, below is information I am sending to those who have expressed interest. Feel free to share!”

        Is EarthKeepers Right for You?

        Global Ministries EarthKeepers equips United Methodist laity and clergy to develop or deepen environmental initiatives in their communities. This is a great opportunity for United Methodists who:

        Feel a deep sense of God’s call to care for the environment, recognize the urgency of the environmental crisis, and are ready to take bold action;
        Need to strengthen their organizing skills and deepen their theological resources to support the development or growth of an environmental project or initiative in their churches and/or communities;
        Want to join a broader community of United Methodists who are engaged in environmental ministries;
        Have some previous experience with environmental issues and/or ministry.

        Training Topics

        Eco-theology basics
        How to discuss challenging issues
        Intersectionality—how experiences of environmental issues are influenced by social factors
        Strategies for social change
        United Methodist entry points for engagement

        Cost and Logistics

        There is no fee for this training. Global Ministries will provide lodging and vegetarian meals for participants. Lodging in Atlanta will be single occupancy; lodging in Salt Lake City will be double occupancy. Participants are responsible for their own transportation to and from the training site before and after the training.

        Commitment

        Participants must complete five hours of homework in the month prior to the training. They should plan to commit 10 hours/month to their projects for at least six months following the training. Participants may join or be invited to help form a regional or online cohort group following their training. Email Lawanda Gooch, Sustainable Development Unit Program Assistant at lgooch@umcor.org .

        “Rev. Jenny Phillips
        Creation Care Program Manage
        404.460.7439 x 1258”

        “General Board of Global Ministries | The United Methodist Church
        458 Ponce De Leon Ave NE | Atlanta, GA 30308
        umcmission.org”

  2. Yes. And thanks for sharing Wesley’s doctrine in the General Deliverance. I’ve used it frequently, myself and it ties to the Doctrine of Sanctification as something beautiful.
    Just two days ago I read Bonhoeffer’s reflection on a boy who visited him while grieving the loss of his (the boy’s dog) Mr. Wolf. There is a place for tenderness in the hope to come and here and now as well.

  3. Save a toy for your son. The worse thing when my Burt was my empty arms I saved one of his loofa toy I sleep with it still. I believe God has made our hearts big enough for many many loved ones. When we are ready the ones in Heaven send them to us. Also talk about him keep a diary save his picture’s

  4. Amen. Thanks for referencing this sermon by Wesley. I didn’t know it existed. It makes me proud to be a part of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition.

    We lost our beloved “Kirby” just a short time after my mother-in-law was killed by a drunk driver. That was the darkest my family has ever been through. People say that it is wise not to get another dog for a time . . . or maybe not again. What did we do? We just didn’t get one pup, we got two! And I do not regret it one bit. Dogs are awesome and it is great to have them around . . . period.

Join the Discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s