All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” Ecclesiastes 3, verses 20 and 21.
The spirit of man and the spirit of animals: did King Solomon not understand that a person’s soul is an immortal thing, or was he simply waxing philosophic?
I remember being part of a pastoral discussion over a decade ago when we were attending a church in west Colorado Springs (a church that, coincidentally, may now be evacuated or in danger of burning down). The pastor was discussing the idea of whether or not animals would be in heaven. He said he believed they would be for a number of reasons: they were in Eden, they were created for God’s glory and our enjoyment, they were created as a way to provide for us, they had been subjected to creation’s frustration but weren’t the cause of it (sort of like being collateral damage when man fell). He also said that he hoped this was the case because he had grown up on a farm and liked animals.
I didn’t grow up on a farm but I like animals too. In fact, while I was writing this (sitting in bed with my laptop in front of me) my cat, Sadie, was curled up beside me. She laid down after finishing her usual routine of jumping up on the bed, pawing me for attention, and meowing until I did as she wanted. During this time, her pal, Moo, (our other cat) was chasing a fly in the bedroom. Our two dogs were actually quiet in their kennels after a long day of being lazy, that is, excepting the time when the FedEx deliveryman showed up with a package. I love our animals. They have attitude, personality, and love.
It’s a dangerous thing to presume to know the mind of God. You and I aren’t God so we shouldn’t make assumptions about what He does or doesn’t feel. I’ll make an assumption, instead, basing it on words from Genesis. God created all the creatures and he saw that it was good. He blessed the creatures of the ocean and the birds, and was pleased at His work and His new creations. He created the animals with feelings, the ability to sense, the ability to love. I think that, if God was pleased, it’s a fair assumption to think that God must love the animals too.
They why did He have ancient people sacrifice animals as restitution for their sins? Again, don’t presume to know God’s thoughts. Simply take Him at His word, and His word said that the animals would be substitutes for all the terrible things people had done. They were to be stand-in’s, reminders that the price paid for sin was paid in blood and death. When Christ fulfilled that price, His sacrifice of Himself made those animal sacrifices moot.
Yet none of this really touches on the point of whether or not animals have souls the way people do. People aren’t animals, so would it be ecclesiastically wrong to then assume their souls aren’t like ours? I don’t think so. I believe animals have spirits; so, evidently, did Solomon because he mentioned it in this verse. And Solomon was the wisest man to have ever lived. He wouldn’t have believed such a thing if he hadn’t been inspired to do so.
So why the question?
Keep in mind that the verses previous to this one talked about how God wanted us to realize our mortality, that we can live and die in the same manner as the other living creatures around us. These verses are yet another pointer that all there is in this world is meaningless without Him who created it. I read Solomon’s “who knows if” statement to be a rhetorical device, posing the question to point the reader to the answer that we need God.
You already know that I like my dogs (and cats, of course…we mustn’t forget the cats). We have two, Josh, a Catahoula hound we got 5 years ago from somebody giving them away and the other (Bella) being a pit bull mix that actually belongs to my daughter but is living with us while she settles in a new apartment; personally, I’ll be surprised if the dog ever moves out. They’re fun, they’re good watch dogs: even though they’re both cream puffs, I wouldn’t want to test that loud angry bark if I were an intruder. I sometimes wonder how much better our world would be if we could love like dogs love. Yes, we can make all kinds of snarky remarks about how dogs have a 5-minute memory, how they’re sometimes dumb as rocks, and how they get all crazy over the smallest things (like birds on the bird feeder or a car driving down the alley). All true, and yet when I scratch them behind the ears, or call them to give them attention, they willingly come and look up at me with those sweet eyes. If you scratch Josh behind the ears, he opens his mouth and it looks like he’s smiling. And Bella loves to play fetch. I’ve never had a dog who could play fetch for hours and never tire of it. This dog has real attitude. Dogs love unconditionally, freely, and once you win their trust they almost always come back to you without hesitation even if you were terrible to them before. That tells me there’s spirit there, and not just internal energy or lack of self control. I know what I believe about the souls of animals; when I die, I hope I find out it was correct.