Blessing the animals
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Job 12:9-10
Devotional text: Isaiah 65:25
This Sunday, we will have a special presentation, the blessing of the animals. We do not do it inside the church, but in the pavilion at the park that is just in back of the church.
For me, I love to see what kind of God’s creatures will be brought in for a blessing. In the past, we have had the usual cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. Sometimes we have had sheep, curly-haired goats, chickens, ducks, iguanas, many types of lizards and even a sugar glider (which is a tiny animal from Australia that can glide).
Our organist brings his keyboard, and we sing hymns such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” “God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale” and “All Creatures of Our God and King.”
Many churches have a blessing for the animals in recognition of St. Francis of Assisi, who is known as the patron saint of animals. Born in Italy circa 1181, his love of God included all creatures: people, animals and creatures of sky and sea. He would even talk to and pray for the creatures of the forest.
We still have some of his words as he preached to the birds, saying, “My brother birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and love him always. He clothed you with feathers and gave you wings for flying. Among all his creatures, He made you free and gave you the purity of the air. You neither sow nor reap. He nevertheless governs you without your least care.”
His most famous work is his “Canticle of the Creatures,” also known as the “The Canticle of Brother Sun.” It is too long to include here; however, it is a beautiful praise to God and his creation.
For the blessing of the animals, we use an animal-themed call to worship, with scripture from Genesis 1:20-25 and Matthew 6:25-29. We read a thanksgiving for God’s creation and ask a blessing on our pets, living and deceased.
Those who have brought their pets bring them forward and we bless them with holy water, giving thanks to God for giving us our wonderful pets that we dearly love. This is such a joyous time for everyone as we watch the various pets and people come forward for the blessing.
It seems that every time we have an animal blessing service, the question comes up, “Do animals go to heaven when they die?”
There is much conjecture from theologians on this subject. Those who say animals do not go to heaven reason that animals do not have souls, do not have spirits or they cannot be redeemed so they won’t be in heaven.
I am with the group that believes animals will be in heaven. I’m with Narnia author C.S. Lewis, as he has stated, “I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness.”
John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, believed that as there were animals in Eden, they will be restored to their original creation by God in the new heaven and earth. In the new heaven and earth everything will be perfect.
The world-known evangelist Billy Graham believed this, too. When asked if dogs go to heaven, he replied, “God will prepare everything for our perfect happiness in heaven, and, if it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”
Looking at the Bible, I have found scripture that allude to this as fact. Let’s look at some of them from both Old and New Testaments.
In Ecclesiastes 3:21, we find that people and animals both have a spirit. In the same book, from 12:7, we are told that dust returns to earth and spirit returns to God.
From the Book of Job 12:7-10, we find that all of creation can teach us and “in God’s hand is the soul of every creature (some translations use “life” instead of “soul”), and the breath of all mankind.”
The prophet Isaiah also spoke about animals in heaven. From 11:6 and 65:25, we find heaven is a place where the “lion will lay down with the lamb … the wolf and the lamb will graze together … neither lion nor serpent shall hurt or destroy.” These are his descriptions from the new heaven and new earth.
Going to Romans in the New Testament, Romans 8:21 states, “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Finally, let’s look to the last Book of the Bible. In Revelation 5:8-13, we find “every creature in heaven and on earth praising God.” When we read of Jesus’ return from heaven, he is riding on a white horse, as seen in Revelation 19:11-14. He will be accompanied by the armies of heaven, all riding white horses.
Although all of these verses certainly can lead us to think the creatures of the world will enjoy heaven with us (and indeed are said to have both souls and spirits), I think the subject is not made clearer because the entire Bible is written to bring humankind into relationship with God. It is fallen humans who need redemption and salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. That is the Bible’s main purpose.
This last quote comes from the 16th century priest known as the founder of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. When asked if he thought there would be dogs in heaven, he replied, “Certainly there will be. Peter calls that day the time of restitution of all things … There and then, God will be all in all. No animal will eat any other.” Luther also mentioned snakes, toads and other beasts that would no longer be poisonous, but “even pleasing and nice to play with.”
Are the creatures of the earth also loved and cared for by God? The Bible tells us this is so. Will heaven also include all the creatures of the earth? From reading the scriptures above, I certainly think this is true.