Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
Over the years, on more than one occasion, a child has asked me the difficult question: “Do dogs go to heaven?”
Sometimes the question was motivated by a parent who said, “Ask the pastor.” Other times the child just wanted to understand what was going to happen to their beloved pet.
I have never felt the need to write a disclaimer that the opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of Tooele City or the organization that ordained me. Perhaps I should have, but in this case, I may be wandering into a theological minefield.
I have historically limited my discussion to how humans “made in the image of God,” get into heaven, a position described and easily defended by historic Christian doctrine. So this brief article is not a treatise to establish a doctrine of doggie salvation; it is simply some personal observations and thoughts.
First of all, as a matter of transparency, I think I have been a dog lover since I discovered dogs, and not just the dogs themselves, but the idea of the nobility of man’s best friend. I grew up with Lassie and Rin Tin Tin as canine ideals.
My parents, avid country and western music fans, had purchased a record about a dog named Shep. I’m not sure they bought it for me specifically, but it was my favorite. I still remember many or all of the lyrics. The singer, whose name I have long since forgotten, sang about the boy and his dog and their companionship.
At one point one, the boy would have “drowndy on down.” I assume you understand the country and western genre has never been overly technical in the use of the English language, “but he jumped in and helped pull me out.” I did not try to find the song, but if I remember correctly, the last line was “If there is a heaven, this one thing I know, old Shep will have a wonderful home.”
That thought sustained me throughout childhood, especially in times of loss. As an adult when I became a Christ follower, I inadvertently ran into some religious people who seemed angered at the suggestion that, in the city where the streets are paved with gold, dogs would be allowed.
I could understand their point; I had seen signs that said keep dogs off the grass. In fact, while stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, I had heard there were some signs that prohibited dogs and sailors.
The NIV Bible translates the word dog, or dogs, a total of 39 times in both testaments and there appears to be few in positive passages. Unfortunately, the term is most often used as a byword applied to people and their behaviors, a usage that is still often used today to describe someone or their maternal genealogy.
The last place in scripture the word is translated is in the Revelation of John: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Rev. 22:15 NIV. So does this bad behavior by humans restrict the possibility of dogs in heaven? My opinion is no.
There are obviously going to be other animals there. The wedding feast cannot be a vegetarian affair, that would not reflect paradise for a lot of people. My brother, who freely admits he likes most dogs more than most people, says if there are no dogs in heaven, he doesn’t want to go.
The possibility of no dogs being admitted is not a barrier. The only real question God asks is: Do you know my Son?
Bill Upton is chaplain of the Tooele City Police Department.