Do Dogs Go To Heaven? The Questions Beneath the Questions

I just returned from having a small group with four really sharp senior girls, and a story one of them shared made me wonder: Are we listening for what questions our kids are really asking, or do we just hear the surface queries? 

This girl shared the story of a child coming up to the children’s minister and asking, “Will my dog be in heaven when I get there?”  And the woman’s immediate (and apparently affect-less) response was, “No. Dogs don’t have souls.”  And that was all.

Now, this is not going to be an article that debates potential scriptural understandings of how God deals with His creatures in relation to His coming kingdom, but I do want to take a minute to explore what might be stirring in the heart of a kid (or any person) when they ask such a question. It may give us pause before providing answers in a manner similar to this woman.

Is it likely that this child really wanted to know the answer to this question?  Yes.  And it is good to ask questions; I always encourage kids to ask questions.  But is it also likely that underneath that question lies something deeper, something more connected to the heart.  And a response like the children minister’s – no matter how scripturally-supported or believed-in – misses this.

I want to suggest that many of the questions we hear in youth ministry have roots in these three more fundamental questions:

            1) Is God good?

            2) Am I loved?

            3) Am I alone?

So, it is a fabulous idea to pause when asked a question, consider the person asking the question, and take a moment to consider the three more deeply impacting questions that might be fueling the inquiry.

I also would suggest asking yourself about your need to provide immediate, exact, or black-and-white answers to such questions as these.  I remember graduating from college and having a youth ministry job fall into my lap.  One of my first thoughts was: “Crap, I have to have answers for every question I may potentially be asked!”  You’d better believe I got lost in apologetics for a while after that. 

In reflecting back (and considering my inclination now, quite honestly), I realize that my need to “have the right answer” is often far more about feeling a need to secure my faith in my own knowledge than considering what it means to love the person in front of me by considering their question on a heart-level as well as the initial head-level.  I make their question about me, about my ability to answer it, rather than about the embodied soul in front of me.  I want to take a moment to consider what it means to know and understand their heart- hopes, fears, doubts and all.  It isn’t likely that this question simply comes from a place of detached hypothetical curiosity; it is more probable that they are longing to know if the fuzzy friend who has gone through thick and thin with them will be a part of the joy that is to come (heaven).  What if one of their premiere experiences of joy has been their faithful fido?   Your prepared-in-advance response will miss a unique opportunity to love them through getting to understand their heart a little better by considering what might be beneath their question.

Do you feel a pressure to have the right answer immediately?  What does it say about you if you don’t have the answer?

Liz Edrington serves as the Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN. She received her M.A. in Counseling from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, and she has worked with students in one form or another since 2002. She is an emeritus member of the Rooted steering committee, and she's the author of a 31-day devotional for teenagers called Anxiety: Finding the Better Story (P&R Publishing, 2023). Pickled things delight her, as does her snuggle beast, Bella the Dog.

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