There’s always been a bond between people and animals that is closer than our connection to any other part of creation. It began at the beginning. God didn’t ask Adam, “What is this rock’s name? This plant? This body of water?” But he did bring every beast of the field and every bird of the sky to Adam so that he could name them (Gen. 2:19).
@@From the beginning, human life and animal life have been intertwined.@@
Go forward a few generations and this bond is underscored once more. When the flood destroys all but eight people in the world, Noah and his family are kept safe in a boat--a boat that is also a floating zoo. When they emerge from the ark, people and animals set foot within a kind of “new creation.” God saw fit not only to preserve humanity for this fresh start, but also the animals.
And one more story. When God threatened to demolish Nineveh unless they turned from their wicked ways, the citizens were so zealous in repentance that the king commanded a citywide fast in which neither “man, beast, herd, or flock” should eat or drink. Indeed, he went on, “both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth,” (3:7-8). When Jonah pouts because things didn’t go his way, God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are not more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right hand and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:11). That last phrase—“as well as many animals”—highlights that God was not merely compassionate toward the people of Nineveh. Those fasting, sackcloth-clad animals were in need of mercy as well.
But how far does this mercy extend? To the limits of this life or beyond? Will there be dogs and horses and birds in heaven? Are these animals only part of the gifts of this world?
There’s a twofold answer to that question. First, no, there is no promise that there will be animals in heaven. But heaven is not the ultimate goal of humanity. When believers die, they go to paradise, in the presence of Christ, but there they anticipate the climactic gift of God: the resurrection of the body. From now until the return of Jesus on the last day, believers are waiting for God to raise and glorify their bodies. When that happens, “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heart, and the earth and its works will be burned up,” (2 Peter 3:10). Then, according to his promise, God will give us “a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells,” (3:13).
What will this new heavens and new earth be like? Isaiah describes it as a place where there is no more weeping and crying, but rather rejoicing (65:17-19). People shall build houses and live in them, plants vineyards, and enjoy their fruit. All will be well again, better than Eden. Indeed, “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” (65:25). Elsewhere, when the prophet describes the blessings of the new creation in Christ, he says, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them,” (11:6).
So, will there be animals in heaven? No, we are not given that promise. But will there be animals in the new heavens and new earth, where we will reside in resurrected, glorified bodies? Yes, that is the way our Father has described the new creation which we await.
Our final resting place is indeed a physical, created place. We will not strum harps as we recline on fluffy clouds in a spirit-like existence. Rather, we will have bodies. We will eat and drink. We will enjoy a creation even better than what Adam and Eve enjoyed. As our first parents had a bond with the animals, as Noah had animals with him in the reboot of creation after the flood, so after this old creation to an end, we will enjoy a new creation that includes animals.
As Elyse Fitzpatrick writes in her new book, Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings, "It's not only the inanimate world that will be made new, it's also the entire animal kingdom. Because there were animals in the Garden of Eden before the world was corrupted, it's reasonable to assume that there will be animals in the New Earth, too."
All of this will be because in Christ, God our Father is making all things new (Rev 21:5). His resurrection is the source of life in the new creation. In him and because of him, our Father is well-pleased with us. And he is pleased to give us a place where we might dwell with him, in harmony with creation. @@In the new earth, we'll enjoy the companionship of animals our first father named so long ago.@@