Out of My Mind: Going to the Dogs

I never thought of myself as much of a dog person. I grew up with cats, disagreeable ones at that. But several years ago one of my wife’s colleagues gave us a small Yorkshire terrier that she had named Luigi. Yorkshire terriers, as any owner can tell you, are notoriously co–dependent. They crave human companionship and physical touch. Our dog was no exception. He hated being alone. It was not enough for him to be in the same room with us. He wanted to be as close as possible, preferably on someone’s lap. When my wife Jane sat on the couch, Luigi was right there with her, his head on her lap as he gazed worshipfully into her eyes.

This trait endeared him to my wife, the person Luigi correctly identified as the true Alpha human in the house. Jane was the center of his universe. He followed her when she was home and pined for her when she was away. If she left the house, he stationed himself near the door so that he could watch for her return. I would do in a pinch. But only in an emergency. Jane was the real love of his life, as she is in mine.

This dynamic, as you can imagine, was a recipe for a love triangle that would be the envy of any soap opera. And my dog knew he had me at a disadvantage. True, between the two of us, I was the one with the larger brain, a fact that my wife may sometimes have doubted. But I am less portable and not nearly as cute. What is more, I am more easily distracted, given to alternating fits of work and television.

In the evening when our little dog was snuggled next to my wife, I sometimes caught him watching me out of the corner of his eye, as if he were plotting my demise. But as soon as my wife left the room, Luigi would make his way over to my side of the couch and plop down with a sigh. Content as Lazarus when the Angels laid him in the bosom of Abraham.

Over the years, my dog’s capacity for canine devotion captured my heart too. Watching him age and become infirm was difficult. I found myself drawing uncomfortable parallels to my own journey through mid–life and pondering the kind of theological questions one usually hears from small children. Do dogs go to heaven? I knew the correct answer and did not like it.

If I find it hard to imagine a heaven without my dog, it is even harder to picture a heaven in which I am not married to my wife Jane. We have enjoyed so many things on earth together it only seems natural that we would explore the undiscovered country hand in hand. It disturbs me to read Matthew 22:30, where Jesus says, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”

Perhaps this is why I found my dog’s descent into old age so disconcerting. Like a sudden chill at dusk, it seemed to herald the coming night and an unwelcome separation. But Jesus’ words were meant to be positive not negative, displaying the power of God. In heaven our earthly relationships are changed, not eliminated. If the love we experience in heaven transcends the greatest love we have known on earth, then heaven must be a wonderful place indeed.

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

11 thoughts on “Out of My Mind: Going to the Dogs”

  1. What a great post, which of course makes me nostalgic for our Charley who died about a year ago. Sigh.

    But on a theological note, while I fear to extrapolate too much from this, I think an emphasis on the new heavens and the new earth is helpful. There may not be dogs in heaven, but I think it’s entirely possible that dogs may be in the new heavens and new earth, when God’s creation is fully redeemed without sin, death, or flaw. The curse will be lifted from the earth and all its inhabitants.

    On a humorous note, I love that wordpress linked your post with Jade Goody–John Koessler + Jade Goody = connection I never ever could have come up with.

    1. I think you are probably right, Heather. There is mention of animals in passages that speak of the millenium. I once read that C. S. Lewis believed that dogs went to heaven, but I can’t remember where I read that.

  2. “Luigi” is a great name for a Yorki… My sister once had a Yorki name Casy. He was a lovable little spazz!

    Do you remember the “My dog died…” joke you started years back in your Pastoral Theology class? Fun times!

  3. I definitely think animals will play a part in the eschatological future… Especially when I ready Isaiah chapter 11. Maybe I’m biased since I work for PetSmart 🙂
    Dr. Barbieri expressed a similar sentiment about marriage when we talked about heaven in Sys Theo III. He said he didn’t understand how two become one flesh in marriage but become two again in heaven. I can’t say I understand it either, but I think you make a good point that we surely won’t be disappointed and our relationships will be in no way diminished.
    Lastly, I’m convinced after working for a company that calls our customers “Pet Parents” and has a motto “where pets are family” that one of the reasons we get so attached to man’s best friend is that God uses dogs as a conduit of unconditional love. Enjoyed the post, Dr. K

  4. Kozmo says “Woof!” to some of these comments and “G-r-r-r-r-r-r…” to others. ‘Course, he’s one of those amillennial type dogs and he’s looking forward to meeting Greg Beale before he skedaddles to Philly…

  5. I really appreciate your comment about the joy we will experience in heaven. A few weeks ago I found myself thinking about this when my 8 year old niece confessed to me that she was terrified of Christ’s return because she thought it meant separation from the relationships on earth she loves. And it made me think about whether we truly look forward to Christ’s return and why. Thanks for your great post!

  6. John, I really appreciated this post, and thought of our own beloved cat Bubba who we lost suddenly last Fall. I come from the same theological perspective you mentioned on pets and souls and heaven, even as I launched Not One Sparrow. I knew Lewis had interacted with the concept some, but it just didn’t seem to be something we could say much about biblically. But Bubba’s death really opened the question for me in a very personal way. I found myself longing to see him again someday in an intense way, and just praying that God’s unforeseen and unrequired grace might yet allow for that possibility in the new heaven and earth. As I’ve studied animal issues and theology in general and reflected a bit more on this particular subject, which looms large in the animal advocacy community out there (which is often broadly spiritual or more loosely Christian), it does seem clear that the new earth will include animals in a peaceful state. And as only humans, but also animals, are said to possess ‘nephesh,’ it’s possible God planted something in these individual creatures we love, and He loves, so much that He might desire to restore them to life and ultimate vibrancy someday. I guess my ideas of what God might have planned for the redemption of all things are broadening just a bit (without veering into universalism, albeit).
    Thank you for this post, and I’m very sorry for Luigi’s loss – Ben

    ps – You might appreciate reading my description of losing Bubba (http://www.notonesparrow.com/blog/2010/1/9/a-pet-grief-observed.html), and a thoroughly biblical but still intriguing post on the possibility of being reunited with individual animals in heaven from Dean Ohlman of RBC (http://www.notonesparrow.com/blog/2010/1/11/do-animals-have-souls.html).

    1. Thanks, Ben. Appreciate the links. We lost Luigi over a year ago and didn’t think we would ever get another dog. After about a year we decided it was time. We hadn’t realized how much we missed having one.

      John

  7. Good for you guys, that’s great! We still have 3 cats, but none quite like Bubba. I’d love to get another sometime, especially to play with our son (the others are much more stand-offish from him) – Ben

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