Question from a Reader:
Dear Randy, I’m writing to you because you believe animals will go to Heaven like I believe. Randy, for three consecutive summers I have had three dogs die. My sister died as well last year. I love summer but I am dreading next summer because another death may be looming on the horizon.
My latest dog died last week in the prime of his life. He loved me with such devotion that words don’t do him justice. All he ever wanted in life was to just be with me and God took that away from him. This is the FIRST time in my life that my faith has been shaken. And it’s been shaken to the core.
I have some besetting sins in my life that I commit on occasion, and I’m fearful that God has killed or allowed my dogs to die because of my sin as a way of punishing me. I have asked God to put my punishment on me and only me because my animals are innocent. I would give my own life for any of them. Would God take their lives to punish me?
I think I’m angry at God. And I’m not a big fan of myself either. Why am I (the chief of sinners) allowed to live but my dog had to die?
Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM Staff:
This is Stephanie and I’m responding on Randy’s behalf. I’m so very sorry for your losses. One loss is horrible enough but a series of them is crippling. It absolutely makes sense that you would feel dread about the summer season. My counselor has told me that even if we are not consciously thinking of it, our bodies and minds instinctively feel when it is the anniversary of a loss or trauma. We are reminded of the time and our bodies respond with stress.
My mom died last month so I can sympathize with some of the feelings you've expressed here. In fact, a series of events in my life have recently made me wonder, "Am I cursed? What's next?" But that's where the gospel can speak to our deepest fears and needs. You ask, "Would God take the lives of my dogs to punish me?" The gospel tells us that if you have believed in Christ, He has already paid the penalty for your sins—past, present, and future. There is no more punishment from God that await you or me. No animal could possibly be sufficient to pay for your sin anyway. Christ took it on 100%. “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14). "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). We are not under a curse; we are under Christ. (Even in the Old Testament, the death of animals under the sacrificial system pointed to the far greater sacrifice that truly could atone for sin—the death of Jesus.)
Still, the question of "Why?" remains. Why did your dogs have to die and why all these losses? What is God's purpose in all this? The "Why" question is one we all must wrestle through when we experience loss. But God is not afraid of our asking that question of Him. We know that because we have the example of the psalmists wrestling with that question and honestly pouring out their hearts before God. And we also have the assurance that God hears our pleas and promises to be near us: "You heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help" (Psalm 31:22). As Randy writes, "In our times of suffering, God doesn’t give answers as much as he gives himself."
You mentioned that you feel your faith has been shaken to the core. Let me encourage you that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Randy writes in his book If God Is Good, "The faith that can’t be shaken is the faith that has been shaken. God tells us that trials in which evil and suffering come upon us 'have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed' (1 Peter 1:7)."
This can be a real time of introspection and refining for you, as it sounds like it already is. You have the opportunity to take a hard look at your faith and your relationship with God. What is your faith really in? Is your hope in God making your life smooth and pain free? Or is your hope fully planted in Christ? Are you able to trust that He is at work and has great purposes even in your pain and suffering? (I am asking these hard questions of myself, too. They are not easy ones.)
You also mentioned anger toward God. Though we must be careful to avoid cursing God, there can be a place for honestly expressing our feelings of hurt and sorrow to Him. See this article from Randy. Also see his answer to “Is It OK to Be Angry with God over Difficult Things?,” and here's an excerpt from that:
For the Christian, the ultimate remedy for our feelings of anger and hurt is to affirm God’s goodness, sovereignty, and power. We need to go to Romans 8:28, which says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose.” This is part of the inspired Word of God, just as true as John 3:16. Yes, this side of eternity, we often don’t understand why God allows difficult things in our lives that He could prevent. But the comfort Romans 8:28 gives me is this: I can look at the worst thing that has ever happened to me and say, “I’m a child of God. God promises me that somehow, He is going to use this very bad, horrific situation for great good in my life.” We can be assured that whatever difficulty He has allowed in our lives has been Father-filtered through His fingers of wisdom and love. That is the ultimate perspective-giver.
We don't know exactly why your sister and your dogs died. We do know that God is sovereign, He is loving, He is merciful, He is wise. And God's desire for you is to be like Christ. He will use painful circumstances in your life to make you more like Him and to work in your life.
On the topic of loss, let me recommend the book A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. I've read it before but have been reading it again recently in light of my mom's death. I have found it very helpful in validating the feelings of grief and sorrow I feel, while at the same time, being pointed to a greater hope of what God is doing in suffering. And Randy has written on suffering as well—have you read his book The Goodness of God?
Finally, I've been focusing on the Psalms lately, especially Psalms 28, 31, 71. These verses from Psalm 71 have been especially encouraging: "You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again" (v. 20-21).
God bless you. May this time of brokenness ultimately bring about a deeper healing that only God can do in your heart and life.
Thank you. I’m so sorry that your Mom passed away.
I keep thinking of when David committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah the Hittite murdered. God took David’s son before he was born. Seems like David’s son was punished for David’s sin. I didn’t commit adultery or fornication but I do have some besetting sins in my life. Would God take my dog from me for that? I know God causes all things to work for my good but I’m not concerned about that. What about what’s good for my dog?
Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM Staff:
In a general sense, your dog did die because of sin—Scripture says the whole creation is groaning under the Curse brought about by human sin and the death of animals is one effect of that (Romans 8:20-22). But did he die specifically because of this sin in your life? The only thing I can tell you for sure is what Scripture says and that I shared before—that Christ took your sin on 100% and you are under grace, not condemnation.
Still, Scripture does talk about the discipline of the Lord and how God works in our lives through suffering to make us more like Him (see Hebrews 12:4-12). However, this discipline is not punitive but the correction of a loving and sovereign Father. And notice God’s desired outcome in that passage: that we might share in His holiness and experience a peaceful harvest of righteousness. I can’t tell you for sure that God took away your dog to get your attention about this sin but I can say for sure that He loves you, He is for you, He is your loving Father, and He desires for you to be holy because that is in your best interest. If you’re aware of this sin and He has your attention about it now, then it’s time to get serious about it—through confession and repentance and perhaps counseling and accountability as well. (You may well already be doing these things so I don’t want to assume.)
Still, I get what you’re saying where it doesn’t seem fair that a dog that hasn’t sinned should die. I think that’s the whole point of Romans 8:20 (“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly”). Your situation with your dog is a specific example of the death going on around us in creation and deep down we know it isn’t right. This isn’t how God originally intended it! But we have hope that because of Christ, God is one day going to make things right. A New Earth is coming where death will be no more, for both people and animals.
In the meantime, it might help to remember what God says about His creation: “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). God cares about the animals He has created. If His eye is on the sparrow, certainly He cares about dogs too. The death of your dog doesn’t mean that God is punishing him or doesn’t care about your dog or you. Also, I ran my reply by Randy and he reminded me of John 9:2-3 and the story of the blind man. The disciples’ question of “Who sinned, this man or his father?” is pertinent because Jesus says neither. So the assumption that bad things are always God’s judgment for sin is false.
You mentioned in your first message that you appreciated what Randy has written about pets and the possibility that we might see them in Heaven again. Here is what Randy said about that:
Romans 8:21-23 assumes animals as part of a suffering creation eagerly awaiting deliverance through humanity’s resurrection. This seems to require that some animals who lived, suffered, and died on the old Earth must be made whole on the New Earth. Wouldn’t some of those likely be our pets?
In her excellent book, Holiness in Hidden Places, Joni Eareckson Tada says, “If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. It would be just like him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character. . . Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace. Of all the dazzling discoveries and ecstatic pleasures heaven will hold for us, the potential of seeing Scrappy would be pure whimsy—utterly, joyfully, surprisingly superfluous. . . Heaven is going to be a place that will refract and reflect in as many ways as possible the goodness of joy of our great God, who delights in lavishing love on his children.”
My hope is that you’ll take this to the Lord in prayer because He is the only one who can truly help you and comfort you in this. First, by confessing this sin to Him and doing whatever it takes to get serious about it (as you may already be doing). Second, by pouring out your sorrow and heartbreak to Him over the loss of your dog. Ask Him to show you His purposes in this pain and to help you trust Him and in His goodness and love. Ask Him to give you HOPE about what awaits you in eternity. And I think it’s perfectly appropriate to share with Him your desire to see your dog again, trusting the outcome to Him. (See Randy’s prayer at the end of this blog.)
Thank you so much for your time and compassion. I just don’t know that I will ever have peace about this.
If my dog isn’t in heaven, I don’t want to go there.
Answer from Stephanie Anderson, EPM Staff:
You're so welcome. I am praying for you. Remember that grief is hard and it distorts our feelings. My counselor told me recently that it will feel like this season of raw feelings and deep emotional sorrow will last forever. But it won't. It sounds like your dog died very recently so give yourself lots of grace. A friend recently recommended these daily emails on grief that provide encouragement and perspective. You might like to sign up.
And I think it helps to remember that whatever awaits us in Heaven will be absolutely wonderful. In God's presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) so we can trust that what He has for us will be wonderful beyond our current comprehension. And as I mentioned, I think you can honestly tell the Lord your desire to see your dog again, and then leave it with Him, knowing He is your good Father and loves you beyond anything you can imagine.