Thursday, October 9, 2008
Dogs in Heaven
This was a very sad day here, as we buried our faithful German Shepherd, Riko. For me, grief is always a cause for reflection. There is an emptiness in our house, as Riko was a particularly fine companion. For quite a while I will expect his bark when I come home, and look for him out of the corner of my eye to be laying on one of the rugs. I never wanted him; but my wife did. I thought German Shepherds were "Robot Dogs". Riko taught me different. He was very playful and affectionate. He was honest and good natured.In many respects, his character reflected the monks from whom we got him.
I have had dogs my entire life. Growing up, my family always had a small pack of Feist dogs around, as well as the occasional spaniel and farm collie. Later I kept my own packs of hunting dogs and started a number of Border Collies for sheep herding, some for a Border Collie Rescue Organization. Every one of them (save one) has broken my heart to one degree or another by dying. For a Christian Believer in this time and place, this always raises the question of whether our animals will join us in heaven.
I don't worry a lot about heaven. I am holding out for the general resurrection that many Christian confess in the creeds but few spend much time talking about. God enables us though breeding animals and plants to be a kind of co-creator with him. While everything dies as a consequence of the corruption of the fall, this creation is no more in vain than our death is the end of our creation (which was also a co-creation between God and our parents). I think God allows us this tremendous privilege because in spite of our sinful fallen natures, he really loves us. I believe that every flower we plant, every dog we breed, every picture we make, and every other work we do in truth and beauty will somehow be a part of that new creation when Heaven and Earth meet. Spirits floating around are not good enough for me. I want a body to see, hear, and touch the bodies of those people and things I love. I plan on hugging Riko again, and my Dad, and my wife. We have a prayer in my church's services of evening prayer thanking God for our creation and preservation in this life, but also "for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the World by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory. . I take this pray at its word, that our Lord will redeem everything, and I place a great hope in that glory. I hope that this might sooth some who worry about the question of "animals in heaven". If you do not want to believe a poorly educated Pennsylvania farmer in this matter, I might recommend the online lectures and books by Bishop NT "Tom" Wright, in particular Surprised By Hope. Many of the early church fathers also had similar insights.
At the same time, our time and culture sometimes places too much affection into pets. I have seen dogs made to suffer because their owners cannot cope with their death. I believe that sometimes veterinarians are willing to encourage people into extraordinary measures for their pets that sometimes prolong the animal's suffering for this same reason. I think some wisdom from Riko's previous owners are in order. New Skete is a remarkable community, working for the reform of monastic life, much like the original monasticism was a reform movement for a church that was growing corrupted by its recent alliance with Roman authority. They love their dogs,but suggest a balance wherein the dog knows its proper place in the family. They also have have little use for paid pet cemeteries and some other modern affectations. While Riko is gone, and we will miss him, we also live in a world of great pain and tragedy. For right now, our job is to dry off our tears, get up and go on creating in goodness, truth, and beauty, and to do what we can to alleviate some of the misery and pain around us.