All dogs go to heaven?

Griff the dogTwo weeks ago we made a sad decision.  Griff must go. We acquired our shaggy-haired collie cross eight years ago.  We had him before we had any of our children.  We debated many times whether we ought to get rid of him.  But now we knew the time had come.  So the condemned dog ate his last meal – the best part of a chicken.  He followed me out to the car and jumped in enthusiastically – a ride in the car usually means a walk at the end of it.  We pulled up outside the vet’s, went in, sat in the waiting room.  Then through to the surgery where a grave faced Australian vet tried to assure me that I mustn’t feel guilty and that Griff would feel no pain.

I sat on the floor with Griff’s head in my lap. The vet slid the needle into his leg.  And within seconds Griff was gone.  The vet talked to me in quiet reverent tones. “Do feel free to call in a few days time if you need to talk…” and then tactfully left the room, leaving me to grieve quietly.  So I stayed for a few minutes to show the proper grief the vet was expecting, went to the desk to pay the fee, and drove home with Griff’s collar and lead lying forlorn on the passenger seat.

And since then?  Well, yes I’ve missed him

It seems strange not to trip over him in our living-room.  It seems strange not to have him hoovering up dropped crumbs round the dinner-table.  It seems strange not to be worrying about taking him out for a walk.

And yes, I find I’m remembering the good times. Early morning walks when no other dogs or owners were around and I could let him off the lead.  I would watch him rocket off and then I’d hide behind a bush or a tree.  He would look back, realise I had vanished and chase back frantically to search for me, slobbering all over me when at last he found me.  Or late night walks on the sands of Haverigg when I’d walk him down to the sea, and he’d hurl himself into the water, only to emerge ten minutes later and shake himself all over me.  Or winter evenings when I would sit on the floor in front of the fire with a book and he would snuggle up beside me with his head on my lap.

But I remember the bad times too. The time when we stayed in my sister’s home and he satisfied his thirst by drinking stagnant water from the garden pond and was then sick (and worse) in the middle of the night.  Anne and I spent two hours that night cleaning the foulest of foul messes from my sister’s new carpet.  And it never looked new again.  The two occasions when he chewed his waythrough a seatbelt in the car – each episode cost us around £150.  The time when we went away on holiday and left him with the Grubbs.  He viciously attacked another dog, nearly killed it, and ruined their reputation throughout the local dog-owning community.  Walking Griff was agony – he could never learn to walk quietly on a lead, and we could never leave him off the lead while there were other dogs around: he went for them all.  He came to us as a full-grown dog from a refuge: bad habits were already engrained into him.  “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…”

He stole food from the kitchen, vandalised our back door in his determination to get into the house, kept our neighbours awake with his howling, covered our carpets with mud and dropped hair, killed a friend’s beloved budgie.  Time and again we resolved to get rid of him, and found we couldn’t do it – gave him one more chance.  And then he bit little David in the face.

It wasn’t his fault.  David loved Griff too well. He wouldn’t leave him alone.  When Griff crawled into his favourite hidey-holes, David crawled in after him.  David would paw and poke at Griff.  Griff would growl a warning.  David wouldn’t listen.  I’m pretty sure that on this occasion, David poked Griff in his face – and Griff snapped back.  I think it was still intended as a warning.  He obviously didn’t intend to do serious harm or David would have been seriously injured.  But he did draw blood – a quarter of an inch from David’s eye.  If he had mistimed his warning, David would have lost the eye.  That’s a risk we’re not prepared to take. So goodbye, Griff.

Why did we adopt Griff in the beginning?

Well, it was partly sentimental – a look-back to my own childhood.  I grew up with a big Alsatian called Lassie.  I suppose I wanted my children’s childhood to echo mine.  And then, there were practical reasons.  I wanted to take more exercise.  A man walking on his own round a park gets some very odd looks.  But if he’s walking the dog, it’s legit.  I wanted Anne to be able to walk round the neighbourhood and feel safe.  I wanted a guard dog who would scare off thieves.

But beyond all these reasons, there was biblical conviction.  Animals are important in the Bible. When God created Adam and Eve, he said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground…” (Genesis 1:28).  Human beings were intended to interact with living creatures.  And that relationship was supposed to be one of loving care.  “The LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air.  He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.  So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field…” (Genesis 2:19-20).  What a picture! – the animals coming freely, willingly to Adam; Adam giving each one its name, its identity.

That’s the way human beings are supposed to live – ruling over the beasts, relating to them, building relationships with them.   To be complete human beings, we need to be in contact with animals.

Now of course, our relationship with the animals, like everything else, has been spoiled by sin

When Adam rebelled against God, every part of human life was damaged – including our capacity to rule the beasts.  Most animals will not now willingly submit to human rule (though James reminds us that “all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man” – James 3:7).  Nor can most animals safely be treated as our friends.

But the fact is still that normal human existence does involve interaction with animals.  So surely we should aim to restore that, as far as possible.

For most people living in towns, if that’s to happen, it will mean having “pets”.  Bible society was a society where most people worked on the land.  They and their children were in contact with animals all the time.  But for most of us, living in a place like Stockport, that isn’t true.  If children don’t have pets in the home, they’re likely to grow up without ever having close contact with any animal – without ever giving an animal a name.

The Lord Jesus believed that pets had a role in family life.  He agreed with a woman’s argument that there was a place for puppies under the table, eating the food the children dropped (Mark 7:28-29).  And all through history, God’s people have found comfort and normality in caring for pets of different kinds.  William Cowper was given a young hare (the first of three) in 1774 as he emerged from eighteen months of insanity: his pet became the means by which God preserved him from slipping back into mania. Cowper wrote, that he was “glad of any thing that would engage my attention without fatiguing it…. in the management of such an animal, and in the attempt to tame it, I should find just that sort of employment which my case required.” When one of his hares died he wrote its epitaph:

A Turkey carpet was his lawn,
Whereon he lov’d to bound,
To skip and gambol like a fawn,
And swing his rump around.

His frisking was at evening hours,
For then he lost his fear;
But most before approaching show’rs,
Or when a storm drew near.

Eight years and five round_rolling moons
He thus saw steal away,
Dozing out his idle noons,
And ev’ry night at play.

I kept him for his humour’s sake,
For he would oft beguile
My heart of thoughts that made it ache,
And force me to a smile.

C H Spurgeon’s wife Susannah asked for a piping bullfinch and God gave her one by a strange chain of providences.  “Bully” became Susie’s comfort through many hours of illness and loneliness when Charles was away from home. (The Full Harvest 177-178).

Spurgeon himself kept a dog called Punch and mentioned him often in his letters: “Punchie sending me his love pleased me very much.  Poor doggie, pat him for me, and give him a tit-bit for my sake… I dreamed of old Punch; I hope the poor dog is better… Kind memories to all, including Punch.  How is he getting on?… Tell Punchie, ‘Master is coming!”.  (The Full Harvest page 304).

Wesley with his white horse; Luther with his dogs (“The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”); B B Warfield with his short-horned cattle: all of them found that they were not complete without animals in their lives.

So that’s why Anne and I decided we wanted our children to have a “normal” human relationship with at least one or two animals.  We wanted them to learn to rule those animals, to care for them, to take responsibility for them, to think of them as friends and servants.  So in our time we’ve had budgies, fish, and of course, Griff.

And the 64 million dollar question… will Griff be there in that world?

And we’ll look forward to the new world that’s coming – the new heavens and new earth, where at last we – and all God’s people – will be in happy relationship with all the beasts again.  It will be a world where, “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child will lead them… The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest…” (Isaiah 11:6-8).   The Psalmist praises God at the prospect of that new world where Man will be “ruler over the works of your hands; you will put everything under his feet, all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas…” (Psalm 8:6-7).

And the 64 million dollar question… will Griff be there in that world?  C S Lewis certainly believed that some beloved pets may be raised with their masters into immortality.  (The Problem of Pain, ch 9: Animal Pain.).  I don’t know if he’s right.  But I do remember what my mother said when we finally had Lassie put down and I asked the same question.  “If you go to heaven, and if you need Lassie there to be happy, she’ll be there”.  I think that was a good answer.  Nothing that Christ’s people need in order to be happy will be missing there.

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