At some point in our lives, we have all lost precious and dear pets, or at least know someone who has. Their passing is often as painful to us as when we lose human loved ones, sometimes even more so. When they leave us, we like to think that there is a place for them in eternity. It is important that we feel that somehow, someway, provision has been made for them.
Unfortunately, when we seek validation for these hopes from those we look to in spiritual matters, we frequently find that they hold to the view that animals are for this world only and that they do not possess eternal souls. We are told that when they pass, that is the end of the road for them. This only deepens our sorrow and pain.
I do not subscribe to this view. In fact, I find it to be both presumptuous and theologically immature. Presumptuous, because the Bible is clear that God valued the creatures he formed with his own hands and called them “very good” after creating them, indicating that their existence pleased him.
Further, the Bible gives indisputable record that God, motivated by his pleasure and love for his creation, personally and purposely protects and provides for his creatures from Eden past through Millennium future. We are told that he clothes the animals and provides sustenance for them. He directs their migrations to ensure their safety from the environment. He even gives instructions on how domestic animals should be treated. In short, he expresses and employs unending care for his creatures.
This should come as no surprise to anyone as it is in keeping with his original plan in Eden, which was that animals (like humans) would live forever. His immutability precludes variance from that plan; irrespective of the temporary setback caused by the fall of mankind. It would be presumptuous to think that God would change his mind on this matter, for his thoughts and plans are perfect and never in need of correction, change or update.
Continuing, I find the idea that animals have no souls, theologically immature and lacking. The evidence found in scripture overwhelmingly supports that animals do indeed have souls, much like people. I say “much like” because there is a distinct difference. Animals are innocent creatures that are not in need of reconciliation and regeneration. Nevertheless, with this one exception, their souls are very similar to, if not exactly like our own.
In perhaps the oldest book of the Bible, the Book of Job, verse 10 of chapter 12 tells us “In whose hand is the soul of every living thing”. This is a very profound passage. The initial, face-value perception is that God is speaking of all creatures, human and animal. The considered, in-depth study of the statement supports the initial perception.
The word “soul” is used in over twenty different ways in the Bible. Invariably, when people come across this word in scripture, they automatically associate it with redemption, so much so that in no matter what context it appears, the connection to reconciliation and salvation is always present in their minds and unconsciously applied to the interpretation.
In most cases, this is right and acceptable to the rules of exegesis, but there are times when it is not. Clearly, the gospel message is not for animals. It is exclusively for people. It is a reconciliatory outreach from God to people. However, to allow this truth to cause one to draw the conclusion that animals therefore cannot have a soul, is to visit a gross injustice on scripture.
The Hebrew word “nephesh” (soul), appears many times in scripture and is used interchangeably to describe both the essence of man and animals. It does not make a distinction between the two and it does not delve into salvation in its application. Rather, it addresses the consciousness of the soul.
This passage in Job is a good example of this. The word soul is not used in relation to redemption, but rather addresses providential care. A clearer meaning of this verse would be “in whose hand is the life or essence of every living thing…”. God is speaking of that part of humans and animals that contains or houses the “life” he has given to them, that part that departs the body when the body expires.
When we mesh this thought in Job with Romans chapter 8 and Revelation 5:9-13, to name a few corresponding passages, the meaning is clear. The life or essence of every living thing is in the eternal care of the one who created that life.
However, this word in Job indicates an even deeper thought for us to consider. We often refer to man (or woman) as a flesh and blood body with a soul. This is not so. In keeping with the absolute intent of this word, man is a soul that has been placed in a flesh and blood body. The distinction is subtle, but it is immense in effect. This is our essence, that we are a soul, not a body. The body is temporal, but the soul eternal.
This truth applies to animals as well. They are not creatures with souls, but are eternal souls given temporary bodies. The same word is used to describe their essence as it is ours. So when we refer to their soul, we are merely acknowledging that animals have essence and that this essence is eternal in nature. They are innocent creatures whose souls are safe in the hand of their creator.