Are Animals Valuable to God?
Whenever Christians start talking about the nature of the soul and its immortal existence, a simple question inevitably arises: do animals have souls? Now this question is somewhat loaded because what is really being asked here is directed (more often than not) at the relationship between animals and HEAVEN. Christians usually want to know if their beloved pets will be with them in heaven. After all, most of us have had a dog or cat that we truly loved and we want to know if we will ever see that good friend again in the next life. So, let’s take a quick look at the topic and see what sound reasoning and the Bible say about the nature of animals and souls.
First, let’s think about the value that animals have to God. The Bible is replete with examples of how animals are used by humans throughout Biblical history and it is clear that these animals have great value to the cultures in which they existed. And in the same way that animals are valuable to people, they are also valuable to God who loves his children and has given his children authority over the natural world. Animals are valuable to us for many reasons, including…
- Animals Provide Joy and Companionship: We know this from our practical experience with pets. Animals become a part of the family and provide us with great comfort and joy
- Animals Contribute to Our Mental Health: As a result of the joy and companionship that animals provide, they can be a great aid to our mental and emotional health
- Animals Are An Important Part of the Environment: The balance of nature is dependant upon animals for the role they play in the ecosystem
- Animals Are Helpful Workers: They are dependable, reliable, and in many situations, indispensable co-laborers. Throughout history they have pulled plows, wagons and been used by humans as a source of transportation
- Animals Are An Important Food Source: While not politically correct in our current culture, meat is still an important source of food for humanity
It’s pretty obvious that animals are important to us and important to our environment. For these very same reasons, they are important to God. Remember that from our Christian perspective, God gave these animals to us and told us that we are to steward them wisely:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So, Do Animals Have Souls?
If animals are so valuable to God, if they are living beings that have been created by God, isn’t it reasonable to assume that they too have living souls? We’ll let’s take a look at the issue in two ways. First, let’s look at it philosophically, and then let’s look at it Biblically. It just so happens, as usual, that good and reasonable thinking about the issue is consistent with the Biblical Record.
Now, if we think about this from a philosophical perspective and remind ourselves of the arguments that we examined for the human soul (read that article HERE), it isn’t long before we realize that some of the very same arguments that we examined for the human soul would also apply to other animals. Like humans, animals are not part dependent for their identity. In addition, they possess thoughts that are not publicly known, and as such cannot be considered physical properties. Finally, animals possess and experience mental sensations, intentions and desires just like humans. We are able to examine animals and understand that they possess both a brain and a mind, and as such, they are dualistic beings with both a body and a soul.
The Bible affirms this reality in the way that it describes animals. We’ve already talked about the immortal nature of the human soul (read more HERE), and we examined the Hebrew word that is often translated as “soul” in our Bible. It is the word “nephesh” and it reflects the idea of the entire being of a living creation of God. While it does not mean ‘soul’ in the classic Greek philosophical sense of the word, it does indicate a depth of being that includes both the physical and the spiritual (the ENTIRE being). It is interesting to note that the Old Testament writers used this word “nephesh” to describe more than just human life. They also used it repeatedly to describe ANIMAL life!
Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures (nephesh), and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature (nephesh) that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures (nephesh) after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so.
It appears that animals are also ‘entire beings’ with more than simply a material existence. They too are ‘living creatures’ with an immaterial dimension that is in some way similar to that of humans.
But Are Humans A Different Kind of Animal?
This is where our study begins to get interesting. The culture around us begins to ‘bump up against’ the Christian worldview when we start to ask this simple question. After all, secularism would like us to believe that humans are just the product of evolution, like the other animals, and as such, are no different than other species that have survived the evolutionary process. We are just another species of evolved animal. And from this perspective, is it really fair to claim that humans are somehow special just because they may be able to reason a little better?
What could be the basis of our having more inherent value than animals? Their lack of reason, or autonomy, or intellect? Only if we are willing to make the same judgement in the case of humans who are similarly deficient. But it is not true that such humans—the retarded child, for example, or the mentally deranged—have less inherent value than you or I. Neither, then, can we rationally sustain the view that animals, like them, in being the experiencing subjects of a life have less inherent value. All who have inherent value have it equally, whether they be human animals or not. Inherent value, then, belongs equally to those who are the experiencing subjects of a life (Tom Regan, “The Case for Animal Rights”, page 60)
The secular world around us wants us to see ALL animal life with a certain sense of equality. As Tom Regan argues, anything that lives (as an experiencing subject of a life) has the same inherent value. From this perspective, there is NO justification for treating animals any differently than you would treat humans. We don’t eat humans, hunt them, or keep them as pets. Regan’s view of the world would preclude us from treating ANY animal in this way. But the Bible presents us with a different view of humanity relative to the rest of the animal kingdom. The founders of our country and the authors of the Declaration of Independence were overwhelmingly religious, and their words reflect their Biblical view of ‘mankind’:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
The Declaration of Independence simply reflects the plain teaching of the Bible. The authors of this famous American document understood that there is something inherently different about humans. We are not like the other animals.
1 Corinthians 15:39
All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.
Humans have certain inalienable rights based on the fact that they have been designed in the image of God. They are different than the other animals and, in fact, humans actually have the responsibility of stewardship (and care) over these animals even as they also have authority over them:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and 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.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground — everything that has the breath of life in it — I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Now it’s not just the Bible that presents this relationship between humans and other animals, it’s also our common sense that tells us that all animals are not the same. For example, let’s say you have a pet monkey. One day your monkey breaks free of his leash and runs down the street and bites neighbor! In this situation, the law is going to find YOU accountable for this action. The monkey is, after all, your pet! You were supposed to be taking care of it, and that includes making sure that it doesn’t bite your neighbor! We understand as a culture that WE have responsibility over ‘lower’ animals like this and WE are the steward of lesser creatures who happen to be our pets. The monkey belongs to YOU, you don’t belong to the MONKEY. While it is not right for people to own people, we have no problem with people owning a variety of lesser animals as pets (it could just as easily have been a pet dog). So while some may like to claim that all animals are somehow equal, our practical experience tells us otherwise.
But in addition to this, the Bible clearly tells us that humans are what scientists call “phylogenetically discontinuous” relative to the other animals. The Bible tells us that humans cannot be paired with any other animal for reproduction. They are somehow completely different. Unlike a horse and a donkey that can mate and produce a mule, Humans stand alone as a species from other primates:
Now 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. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”
We all seem to inherently understand that humans are different from the other animals. The only real argument is the MANNER in which we are different. Are we only different in terms of our reasoning capacity? Is that all it is? If this is the only thing that separates us from other animals, then Tom Regan’s argument seems to make sense, and we should begin to recognize the rights of animals in exactly the same way that we recognize the rights of humans. To do otherwise is to discriminate on the basis of intellect, and we certainly would not do that with other humans, would we?
So, What’s This Image of God Thing?
But if we really think about it, there are many reasons why we don’t treat lower animals the same way that we treat humans. Let’s be very practical about this and look at the issue through our simple example. Let’s go back to that monkey that bit your neighbor. Now some would argue that the monkey really can’t be held accountable for such an action, because, after all, monkeys do, by their very nature, bite stuff! Few of us would argue that the monkey has the ability to make a moral decision here. This part of the monkey’s nature, his ability (or inability) to discern and make moral choices, the is very different than you and I. But that’s not all. We also understand that the monkey has very limited ‘self awareness” (the ability to understand one’s place and identity in the world, the ability to be responsible as a result of this awareness, and the ability to make choices that AREN’T driven purely by one’s animal nature and instinctive drive). And finally, we recognize that the monkey has no sense of spiritual awareness; no innate drive to understand it’s purpose or place in the larger scheme of the cosmos, and no desire to seek out the God who created him. We recognize three differences between the monkey and the human, even without having to open the Bible for guidance on the issue, but it is interesting to find that the Bible just happens to agree with our observations. As it turns out, these three differences are three attributes of humans that distinguish them from lower animal forms. They are the characteristics of humans that distinguish us in the ‘image of God”:
Unlike lower animals, humans DO have the ability to measure difficult and weighty moral issues. We do understand the value of sacrifice, even when a noble cause may cost us our lives. We, as humans, are able to move beyond survival mechanisms and base desires. We have the capacity to move beyond what “is” toward what “ought to be”. This ability defines us as humans and it is something that we share with our creator. In fact, this innate understanding of morality COMES from the creator:
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.
Think about it for a minute. The moral law is not written for animals. We assume up front that they will NOT be capable of abiding by moral concepts that we embrace. The Old Testament also recognizes the difference between animals and humans:
“If a man’s bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal, and the dead animal will be his.”
Notice that an ox that kills is NOT penalized (even if he has a habit of killing!) But the owner IS fined. The Bible recognizes that humans are held to a different standard; a standard that is a direct reflection of their ability to comprehend and act on the moral law written in their hearts.
So it shouldn’t surprise us that we are inherently spiritual. After all, if we possess a conscience that has been given to us by God, it makes sense that we would eventually want to know WHO gave us this burdensome knowledge of right and wrong! But that’s not all. As humans, we live in the same environment as other creatures, but we find ourselves questioning how an environment as magnificent as this could exist without a creator:
… since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
We are uniquely curious about our origin, purpose and meaning, and unlike other animals, we desire a relationship with the creator of the universe. Unique to the human species is this desire to commune with God.
And finally, as humans we have a unique self awareness (consciousness) that allows us to see our place in the world and understand our identity. We have the ability to understand the natural and spiritual hierarchy, and we recognize our place within it:
Then Job replied to the LORD: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. [You asked,] ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. ["You said,] ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
We also have the ability to act outside of ‘natural’ desire. We can be inspired to make choices that are self sacrificial, benevolent and moral. While the desire for food, pleasure and sex are still strong forces in our lives, we have the free will ability to act morally and in contradiction to these desires. This ability to CHOOSE is an important aspect of our nature in the image of God, because it is with this ability that we choose to seek God, follow God and trust God:
“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
And it is this ability to make choices that determines our eternal destiny. As we discussed in our article dealing with the eternal nature of the human soul, our souls ARE subject to the judgment of God (more on that HERE). God has complete control over our TRUE life (as a living soul), and our final death is NOT dependent on our body, but IS dependent on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
So Tell Me, Are Animal Souls Eternal?
Let’s get back to the $64,000.00 question (boy, I dated myself with that one): Do animals have souls that are eternal? Do they live beyond the grave like human souls? Will I see my pet cat in heaven? After all this foundational theology, the simple answer is… no. There is something very special about humans. They are set apart from the animal kingdom and it’s NOT just a matter of intelligence. The Bible tells us that it is a matter of ‘image’. Our nature is different in that we have been created in the image of God. The writers of the Declaration of Independence got it right. HUMANS are created equally, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. We are unique in that regard. We have a moral, spiritual and self awareness that allows us to make a CHOICE for God.
And according to the scripture, Heaven is the realm of those who made the choice to surrender to and worship the God of the universe. Heaven is the realm of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their savior:
…everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
The ability to accept Jesus as Savior is unique to humans. We are in the image of God and this means that we have those three distinct qualities that separate us from other animals. As a result, we find ourselves seeking God and finding Him incarnate: Jesus Christ. Other animals simply cannot do this and therefore their souls DON’T have the ability to do what human souls were designed to do… enter heaven through a relationship with Jesus.
Still Think It Stinks?
This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t like animals. In fact, there may be animals in the new earth and heaven that God will create for us, but you and I won’t find our pets there. These animals will have to be new creations with new souls, if there are any animals there at all. But while you may be tempted to be a bit angry that your pets won’t join you in the next life, a better response might simply be to try to recognize just how special YOU are in the eyes of God. You and I have been created in His image, and He loves us enough to provide us with a way home. And every time you start to focus on the ‘sad’ plight of the animals that won’t be with us in heaven, take a minute to think about the HUMAN friends that we have who either continue to reject the truth in their rebellion, and those who haven’t yet heard the truth about Jesus. These folks face the same fate as the animal kingdom and they HAVE been created in God’s image with the capacity to enter into eternal life. We ought to be on our knees for a couple of reasons. First, to ask God to open the hearts of the men and women in our world, and second to thank Him that He’s already done that for us.