… and the Life of the World to Come

99

Do good dogs go to Heaven?

Prepare us for that day of days; When Christ from heaven will come with might; To call us out of dust again, Our bodies glorified in light.

We believe in the resurrection of the body on the last day. But what happens then? Do we return to Heaven with Christ forever?

Here’s St Paul:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;… because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Not only us, but also all material creation will be glorified: freed from death and suffering, with the beauty of God shining through all things. The present world God made has us surrounded by living bodies of all shapes, sizes and colours, and this bodily richness continues in the Coming World. This embodied life, lived and shared with other creatures, all drenched in the glory of God, is the Life of the World to Come which we profess in the last line of the Nicene Creed.

This is Physics 2.0: new bodies, perhaps made of matter obeying new rules. In physics at present it’s hard to avoid things breaking down and so eventually death. The chemical bonds holding together your DNA have a certain strength, and there’s always something stronger: naturally occurring radiation can cause harmful mutations. Your bones have a certain strength: jump off a cliff and you’ll find there’s something stronger.

One eminent physicist I’ve talked to said he could indeed think of a type of matter that would beat death, so the idea doesn’t seem scientifically impossible.  But the full scope of God’s changes to matter are likely as far beyond our best minds as a butterfly is beyond a caterpillar.

To die is gain says St Paul: what exactly do we gain when we go to Heaven? The sanctifying grace in our souls gives us the capacity to see God, the source of all created beauty and truth and joy, clearly and directly in the Beatific Vision. But we also lose something important: our bodies. St Thomas Aquinas thinks bodies are essential to us – God made us different to the Angels – and so we are happy but incomplete in Heaven.

Thus, the last line of the Creed seems to me to be more about the new Earth. God made us to be embodied: death, the permanent separation of body and spirit, was not in his plans. Being a disembodied spirit in Heaven is a temporary state for us

For God formed us to be imperishable;

the image of his own nature he made us.

But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world

God’s triumph over death starts with Christ’s resurrection, but his plan only completes with the life of the new Earth, the Coming World. Our joy will be increased when we can see God and our loved ones, not only through the mind’s vision of God but also through our waking eyes.

Why do we tend not to look beyond heaven? Perhaps it seems a fitting end to the story: we’re freed from the body and zoom off into space. But those who know scripture might notice a pattern

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God

Jesus does indeed ascend bodily into heaven, with the apostles looking up after him, probably missing their friend. But angels tell them:

This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.

God descending to Earth to wrest control from Satan, become our king and dwell with us forever, not human people ascending, is the dominant direction in Scripture (more on this in N.T. Wright’s How God Became King). Isn’t that what we pray for in the Our Father?

So do good dogs go to Heaven?

The new Earth seems a more natural fit. If the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay it seems all sorts of animals will be on the new Earth, transfigured into a new nature where they don’t die or prey on each other

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Whether your particular bundle of fluff will be there is less clear: perhaps if you put in a good word?

And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”.