This is the first in a series of blog posts that will seek to answer questions submitted for our annual “Faith Questions” service but which were not included among the questions asked during that service.
Q: Do animals have souls and do they make it to the afterlife? Will I ever see my childhood cat again?
There has long been a tradition in Christianity that there is a fundamental difference between human beings and the other animals. But I don’t believe this is the Biblical view. In the Book of Genesis, in the second creation story found in chapter 2, we read: “the LORD God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.” (Genesis 2:7 CEB) In the Hebrew text, God breaths a neshomah into the human being and the human becomes a living being (a nephesh hayah). Later in the same chapter we read that God forms the animals from the dust of the earth (in the same fashion as the human) and the text refers to them as “living beings” (nephesh hayah).Illustration by Kathleen Kimball
The Bible, then does not seem to treat the animals as anything other than living creatures in whom is the breath of life. In fact, repeatedly throughout the scriptures are we told of God’s care for animals. In the Book of Jonah, God tells Jonah that he cares for the many animals of Nineveh; Jesus tells his disciples that not a sparrow falls that God does not take note of. All things. St. Francis would often preach to the birds of the forest. When asked why he would respond, “The Gospel is for them, too.”
But for me, there are two passages that really speak to this question. In the fortieth chapter of the book of Isaiah, the prophet writes that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.” “All flesh” is used elsewhere to refer to all living things not just human beings. And in the book of Revelation, at the end of all things, when the Kingdom of God is brought to earth and the dead are resurrected to new and everlasting life, God declares, “behold I make all things new.”
That means that salvation is not for us human beings alone, it is for the entirety of the creation, and that includes the animals. I believe all living things are part of God’s plan for salvation. And that includes your childhood cat.
United Methodist Chaplain