Always go for the lively one, was the advice I took when we chose our puppy, a decision I often rued. He was a feisty Lakeland terrier, who graced our home with love, mischief and naughty deeds for 14 years. Always in trouble, always in the doghouse, always he bounced back with unconditional love. His most ruinous deed was when an unsuspecting house guest accidentally opened the door to the postman, someone Rolo had been after for a couple of years. The dog warden came to see us shortly afterwards and now our mutt had a criminal record. Bang went his dream of becoming a police dog.
But he had many Christian qualities. After a good talking to, he would always lick your face to say ‘I’m sorry I did it again but I can’t help it, it’s just my nature.’ I reckon that is exactly like us when we pray. And his ability to forgive was without doubt much better than ours. So did he make it to the other side?
If I were setting a theology exam, which I have to say is completely unlikely, I’d include the question – Do dogs go to heaven? Whether or not there are wagging tails and celestial lampposts in the heavenly realm should produce some good theological debate. And in truth, it’s a daft question but in reality, all doggy owners and all children want an answer to it. I googled it, just to check it out. I like googling spiritual questions because the Web can’t provide any clear answers. I like that uncertainty in our data-driven world.
The good book is a bit short on veterinary theology. There’s a few clues. We know Revelations mentions a white horse in Heaven. Proverbs 12.10 tells us a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal. And Ecclesiastes actually poses the question about animals in heaven, (3:21 for those keen ones amongst us) ‘Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?’ But Isaiah gives the best answer in 11:6-9. ‘The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat….They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain’. That tends to suggest Rolo will lie down with the postman, which rather goes to prove what a marvellous and miraculous place Heaven must be. And of course Jesus tells us that not a single sparrow will fall to the ground without your Father knowing it, which tends to clinch it for me.
I got a brief glimpse of what the animals in Heaven debate might be like last week on holiday at Centerparcs. For those who are unaware, this is a holiday park that majors on a top notch swimming dome and other delights, all set in a conservation forest. As we sat for breakfast on the patio outside our chalet, we were joined one morning by an ensemble of 2 ducks, a pheasant, a squirrel and a robin. It was surreal. We were expecting them to burst into a Disney dance chorus any moment. And as we walked along the footpaths of an evening, there were rabbits everywhere, totally unfazed by our proximity. And there were geese, lining the pathway every 200 metres or so, their hopeful pleading eyes like those of a homeless beggar on the street. Here was nature, red in tooth and claw, being jolly matey with us human beings and hoping to cadge a free meal in the process.
So, when I set that question in the theology exam, I shall make it a multiple choice question. Do dogs go to Heaven? – Yes, No, Don’t know. Like many questions in our spiritual walk it comes down to faith because hard answers are not always there for us. But just so you know where I stand, I shall be ticking the Yes box.