All dogs go to heaven

by Father John Dresko

"sin came into the world through one man and death through sin,

and so death spread to all men because all men sinned

(Romans 5:12, RSV)

Lady, our beloved dog and friend for almost eleven and one half years, died two days before Forgiveness Sunday. Although she had been sick with cancer, she had just started treatment and her death was quite sudden and shocking to us, happening at 3:00 a.m. in a strange emergency animal hospital. As my wife and I stroked her beautiful coat for the last time and shed our tears as we said goodbye, a few thoughts came to my mind - all of which connect with our celebration of the Lord's Resurrection.

My first thought as I looked at her lifeless body was just how fallen, corrupt and sinful this world really is. The only reason death reigns in this world is because of sin. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, sin was brought into this world by man, and by sin death. Sin so permeates creation that nothing remains untouched by sin and death - even animals. Despite the fact that our dog did nothing except offer love and companionship, despite the fact that our dog (and all of creation except for human beings) was sinless, she still shared in the fate that awaits everyone and everything in this created world. She died.

For the first time in my life, I truly understood the agony that Christ felt when He stood at the tomb of His friend Lazarus and wept. He did not weep because He was not sure if Lazarus was going to be raised. Nor because He wanted to show His friends and family the grief He felt. He wept because He saw His creation - so lovingly crafted, so lovingly cared for, so lovingly created for divine communion with Him - lying dead and corrupting in a tomb. Sin and death had brought the divine creation to the point where creation preferred the tomb to the Kingdom of God.

As a priest for twenty years, I have dealt with suffering and death on a fairly regular basis. Somehow, I can understand the correlation between my own sins and death. I can understand the correlation between the sins of every person created and death. But to see the correlation between sin and the death of all of creation was something I understood, and even taught, in an analytical sense, but never understood and felt in my heart and soul - until now. As I looked at our beloved friend lying there, I understood. My sins, and the sins of everyone created, have corrupted this world to the point where she had to suffer the consequences. She had no choice in the matter. She also had no guilt.

Resurrection, however, is a reality that we believe and trust in. Christ wept over the tomb of Lazarus, but He also raised Lazarus. He wept over Jerusalem, but gave us the Church. He saw that we prefer the tomb to the Kingdom of God, but redeemed us. The resurrection of Christ begins the re-creation of the world. Everything and everyone will be made anew in Him. St. Paul reminds us that God has made Christ "the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:22-23, RSV). The risen Christ fills everything with Himself. All of creation will be redeemed and sanctified.

I am no theologian, but my cursory examination of the question of animals and the Resurrection brings commentary down on both sides at best. Animals (as well as the rest of created nature except for humans) do not have souls and do not sin, therefore they also have no need of redemption. But there is commentary that would tell us that animals (indeed, the whole world and all of creation) will share in the coming again of Christ and the eternal reign of the Kingdom of God. The corruption that they face because they exist in this fallen world will be washed away in the re-creation of the world in Jesus Christ. St. John of Damascus says that "the earth that is to be the possession of the holy is immortal." (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Chapter X).

We also believe that anyone who experiences a truly loving relationship experiences the presence of God. I do not believe for one second that God placed such creatures as our dog on earth as "throwaway" creatures who simply cease to exist when they fulfill their purpose and then die. All of creation is part of God's divine plan and all of creation will be redeemed in Christ Jesus. There was a kid's movie a few years back that proclaimed: "All Dogs Go to Heaven." I have no doubt.

Lady placed her absolute trust in us for everything. We did our best for her, but it was not enough. Luckily, blessedly, we can place our trust in Someone better than us. Unconditional love and loyalty are divine qualities.

Thank you, Lady.