CNN is reporting that PETA, the animal rights group, “is asking to the translators of the New International Version (NIV) to remove what it calls ‘speciesist’ language and refer to animals as ‘he’ or ‘she’ instead of ‘it.’” The article goes on to quote a PETA spokesperson as saying, “Calling an animal ‘it’ denies them something. They are beloved by God. They glorify God.”
I’d like to make fun of the request. Why limit it to animals? What about trees and mountains? After all the trees of the Psalms clap their hands in praise of God and mountains skip like sheep before him. If we are going to repent of our speciesism, why not, also, of our vegephobia and our mineraphobia? I just don’t know how to tell a “he” tree from a “she” tree.
I’d like to make fun of this appeal on behalf of the animals, but I know it might get me into trouble. A recent ABC News poll reveals that more Americans believe their pets will make it to heaven (43%) than believe that there will be a “no pets allowed” sign on the Pearly Gates (40%).
One of the most important theologians of our time in N.T. Wright, an Englishman, and faithful to the evangelical tradition. Recently Wright has been challenging our “going to heaven when I die” assumptions. Wright insists on the historicity of Christ’s bodily resurrection and his return at the end of time. And that is exactly why he is uncomfortable with the idea of “going to heaven when I die.”
In an interview with Time magazine, Wright said, “The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, ‘Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.’ It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation.”
Wright’s theology is contested by some and that’s okay. There are parts of it that make me uneasy, but I think he’s on to something here. And if he is, Fido, Fluffy and all the rest may be in luck.
There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that animals have immortal souls and it would be worse than trivializing – a blasphemy – to suggest that Christ suffered on the Cross for even the most beloved pet.
But Wright is not thinking about personal redemption. He is listening to the Scriptures and perhaps no passage more so than Paul’s majestic Romans 8. Paul is reflecting on God’s plans for the future and for all creation. He writes in Romans 8:18-25:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
That’s a paragraph full, but to the 43% of you who think your pets are going to heaven, think about it this way: they may not make it to heaven, but they may be part of the creation set free from its bondage to decay and creation. Maybe that is what Martin Luther had in mind when he said, “Be thou comforted, little dog, Thou too in Resurrection shall have a little golden tail.”
I’m okay with my NIV Bible calling animals “it.” I’m just hoping that all of those God calls not just “he” or “she,” but whose names are written on his heart, will be ready to welcome the King when he returns to claim his throne.