"Why Brother Gary, what seems to be the matter", my pastor's wife asked as I made my way to my usual pew on Sunday morning. I didn't respond immediately, because I just didn't feel like talking. My beloved dog of 16 years had passed away the day before and my mind could focus on little else but the terrible void and sense of loss I was feeling. I probably shouldn't have been out in public so soon, but I thought support from those of like faith might help ease the pain I was feeling.
Before I could respond, she added, "You are always such a happy person and today you look so glum." As I sought for something to say I felt tears welling up in my eyes and I knew that I had to squeeze an answer out quickly or risk blubbering incoherently as my emotions took over. So I quickly blurted out "My dog died yesterday."
Sure that she heard the quivering in my voice and saw the tears beginning to flow I waited for the compassionate words that I knew only a pastor's wife could find. To my horror, instead of offering sympathy and compassion, she sarcastically, and if I might add, gleefully asked "Oh, and I bet you think your dog went to doggy heaven don't you?"
I didn't know what to say or do, so I resorted to the tactic most people resort to when they find themselves in an awkward situation; I chuckled and walked off. I didn't want to chuckle. I wanted to lash out and admonish her for her callousness; but I didn't. I didn't have it in me. It just was not that important at the moment. I couldn't handle a confrontation. I just wanted to be left alone and so I chuckled and walked away.
Outwardly I erased any sign of hurt or anger toward her, but inwardly I was mortified. She had taken one of the most traumatic experiences of my life and heaped more grief and pain upon it. Her undeserved cruelty to me was bad enough, but the sentiment she expressed was even more disturbing. I was to find later in my studies and work that many in ministry share her erroneous view of animals and the afterlife.
In my work I have received hundreds of letters and e-mails from exasperated church-goers who have suffered similarly at the hands (or words) of their ministers and their spouses. Sometimes it was from direct dialogue about a specific pet, but more often it was just hurtful comments made from the pulpit that suggested animals were not important and did not have souls.
Overwhelmingly, mainstream denominations hold to this opinion. They hold that animals are temporal creatures without souls. The usual premise for this belief is that the Bible says that God breathed life into Adam, but does not say that he did this for animals. Hence, in their mind man has the Spirit of God in him and animals do not.
I find this position theologically immature and wholly unsupportable. That animals have souls is an unimpeachable teaching in scripture. First of all, the word "soul" is used in over 20 different ways in scripture. When it comes to animals, the Hebrew word "nephesh" is used. This word "soul" means "essence" or "life". The word confers permanence to that life. It is not and cannot be temporal.
Moreover, God is the one who gave animals their essence or life, whether he breathed into them or not. Adam couldn't do it. All life comes from God. This alone refutes the erroneous notion that God did not somehow give life to these creatures. Just because it is not recorded does not mean it did not happen. We are not told that God breathed life into the woman. Are we to assume then that women have no souls?
If we follow this erroneous view it becomes more outrageous. We must conclude that only Adam had a soul, for God did not breathe into every man, only Adam. Adam may have been able to pass along physical traits to his offspring, but the soul comes from God. So, if God did not breathe into each man, each man did not receive a soul. How foolish an idea is when you follow it to the extreme.
The whole idea that animals do not have souls is erroneous. There is no Biblical support for such a position. Indeed, there is overwhelming evidence that proves that they do have souls and are eternal creatures. This is not a conclusion that is hard to arrive at. A simple, elementary study of pertinent scripture is all that is required. It is egregious that those who need to have answers do not make the effort to reach this understanding.
Many ministers need to revisit their ideas about animals and animal afterlife. Trusting what they heard from their Seminary Professor or a previous pastor is not acceptable. The onus is upon them to know the facts for their flock. Their calling is one that puts them in a position of trust. They are in ministry to serve and help when members of the flock have need. Losing a beloved pet is indeed a time of great need. It is not a place where a minister wants to fail or trust their responsibility to the ideas of others.
It is a lazy and dangerous practice to disregard the Bible's instructions for those who minister "to search out whether these things are true". Ministers take on an obligation to have ready and sound answers for their congregants, in particular when it comes to matters of the heart. People go to church to "know" what God says, not what a Seminary Professor thinks. A minister must know, not hazard a guess.
Sorry so late to see your sharing. I hope this incident
did not happen to you for real.I love my pets so much. It is obvious that there is something more to them than just existing. I own cats,a dog and horses. Each one has it's unique personality. Each one receives affection from me and returns it.I believe they do have a soul. Maybe not like ours, but different.
In the Bible there are many ref. to animals. They are important to God in many ways.
I am so greatful that God shares them with me. I don't know what life would be like without them. It would be boring I'm sure.
I have a feeling that you will see your dog in heaven.