Faith Roundtable: Do animals have souls?

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I believe the answer to our question is no, animals don’t have souls. However, before you stop reading, let me say I believe this is a more complex theological issue. Because animals may not have souls doesn’t mean they aren’t in Heaven. In fact, there are multiple places in God’s Word that mention animals in Heaven. And, many theologians and preachers have made convincing cases for that.

So let’s begin by examining the back story. In a nutshell, God created everything – heavens, earth, mountains, seas, night and day, plants and trees. He decided it was all good.  On the fifth day, God created living creatures – birds, sea creatures, every living creature. And then God created (Genesis 1:24) livestock, creeping things and beasts of the earth. But God wanted companionship so He created man in His image. And on the sixth day of Creation, God declared that man would have dominion over the fish, birds, livestock and every creeping thing on the earth (Genesis 1:26).

In fact, God asked Adam to name the animals.  He didn’t ask Adam to name trees and plants and mountains. It seems to me that God intended for humans to share a close bond with His other creatures. 

Then, of course, man and woman sinned. Satan, a fallen angel, deceived them and, to put a fine point on it, all Hell broke loose. Things changed and not for the better. Life became hard.

Death reared  its ugly head. Sin and rebellion against God became prevalent.  

Here’s my point. God loved His Creation. He loved man, woman, birds, beasts, fish, and livestock. They were all part of His perfect Creation. When we (humans) fell into sin, all the cosmos fell into bondage as well - the death, pain and suffering of all creatures is the result of that fall. And yet God has promised to someday set all creation free from this bondage (Romans 8:19-22): 

We believe that God is making all things new. All creation will someday be set free from the bondage of death. When Adam fell, creation fell with him. When Christ rose, the restoration of the cosmos began. That restoration will be complete on the last day. Whether or not animals have anything like what we understand to be souls is irrelevant. They cannot be “saved” with us in the same sense that we are saved but they do die with us. And one day death will be no more.

John Wesley preached a famous sermon entitled “General Deliverance” grounded on the Romans 8 text I quoted above in which he shows persuasively that the resurrection will include all animals precisely because it includes humans.

Then, in Psalm 36, we read ”Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD.”

Billy Graham wrote “Heaven will be a place of perfect happiness for us – and if we need animals around us to make our happiness complete, then you can be sure God will have them there.”

Graham continues: “What does Scripture have to say to those grieving the loss of an animal?

We know that God created animals when he created man and woman when everything was perfect.  It was man and woman who disobeyed God and created sin as a barrier between us and God…not the animals.  

We know that in the book of Elijah, he was picked up and taken to Heaven by a chariot drawn by a team of horses.

In Isaiah, he describes what will happen once God’s creation is restored: “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall feed together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:6-7)

And in Revelation John describes God “making ALL things new.”  Graham concludes: “I believe that includes animals.”

Scripture is clear concerning the welfare of animals. Proverbs 12:10 states, “Whoever is righteous cares for the life of his animals.” In Deuteronomy 5:14 God commands Sabbath rest for animals. The relationship between mankind and animals - even regarding our dominion over them as prescribed in Genesis - was never intended to be one of disregard or exploitation. He gave them to serve mankind. They were never to be regarded only as tools and discarded when they no longer served any purpose. 

Death entered the world because man sinned. We are the moral agents who brought the death that we see all around us. Therefore, death - even the death of an animal - can point us to our need for a savior. God sent Jesus into this world to die the death we deserve and provide forgiveness from our sin so that we might escape the judgment of eternal death. Jesus is the one who fixes what is wrong with this world, and he will fix what is wrong with us if we believe in him.

No, there’s no evidence that Jesus died for animals. But one day God’s perfect creation will be restored and I believe that perfect creation includes animals. Jesus died for you and for me – for our sins so that, if we only believe in Him, we will be saved. Remember, in the verse that follows John 3:16 Jesus says: “for God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” 

Come Lord Jesus.

 The Rev. Dale L. Chrisman is Rector of Trinity Anglican Church. Trinity is now in our new church at 18900 FM 1431, just five miles west of Leander and Cedar Park. Join us at 10 a.m. Sunday mornings.    

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