Perhaps it is not so popular now, but Rover has been one of the most common names for dogs, perhaps second only to Fido. But what happens when Rover or other pet dogs—or humans—die?
Do Dogs Go to Heaven?
As a means of comforting children—or adults—who are grieving over the death of a beloved pet dog, it is sometimes emphasized that the pet has gone to Heaven and is happily waiting for the grieving person to join them there in the (hopefully distant) future.
While, admittedly, such talk likely has comforting value to the person grieving, the credibility of dogs going to Heaven is highly questionable.
For most who think about the matter seriously, the likely conclusion is that, no, dogs (and other pets) do not go to Heaven in any literal sense.
This latter assumption lies behind what the famous American short story writer O. Henry (1862~1910) once said when asked about the afterlife:
I had a little dogAnd his name was Rover
And when he died
He died all over
This apparently meant that O. Henry thought that death, whether for humans or for dogs, means the end of one’s existence.
Do Humans Have Immortal Souls?
Those who deny that dogs go to Heaven most likely do so because they do not believe that dogs have immortal souls. Many of those same people, however, unhesitatingly affirm that human beings do have immortal souls.
The idea of the “immortality of the soul” has a long history and was particularly strong among ancient Greeks.
Most great BCE Greek philosophers, it seems, believed that the human body was the tomb of the soul and that the soul was liberated from the body at death. That belief is sometimes explained like this: the sōma (σῶμα=body) is the sēma (σῆμα=tomb) of the soul.
There is no question but that this idea infiltrated Christian thinking at an early date and has been a widely-held belief of many Christians through the centuries.
Nevertheless, this is not the basic Christian idea and is not necessarily true.
The characteristic Christian concept of the afterlife of human beings is based on belief in resurrection, not natural immortality. That belief affirms eternal life as a gift from God, not as a natural human attribute.
So, What Happens at Death?
In keeping with the basic belief in resurrection, some Christian theologians have rightly seen death as the end of existence—until resurrection. According to the repeated teaching of the Bible, some people receive the gift of eternal life.
What about those who do not receive that gift—especially those who not only reject it but also consciously reject God and God’s grace?
Traditionally, such people were thought to go to Hell where they are punished endlessly.
Last month I wrote (here) about annihilationism, an explanation of what happens at death that rejects the cruel idea of unending punishment. Still, some interpret God’s annihilating the “wicked” or “non-believers” as vengeful and unloving.
Annihilationism has long been linked to the idea of “conditional immortality,” the belief that humans do not have immortal souls. This latter position, sometimes just called “conditionalism,” is probably a better term than the more common label of annihilationism.
It is amazing how the traditional view of Hell is linked so often to John 3:16, that key verse of the Bible that declares, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life” (CEB).