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Reflection February 26, 2017
So Where is Katie Now?
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Recently Barbara Brewer Ceruti‘s much-loved golden retriever, Katie, died at age 12. I spoke about this during my sermon last Sunday. The question naturally arises: where is Katie now? The answer, quite simply, is that Katie is with God.
I will not place my sermon here but I do wish to add some theological thoughts. I mentioned on Sunday the famous passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:22): “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now … ”
I see in this crucial passage from Paul the hope and belief that all of creation is in the process of being redeemed. We know a new earth is on the way (see Revelation 21:1). What such a “new earth” will look like is in God’s hands but I believe that new earth will surely contain animals.
As my favorite theology professor, Zachary Hayes, noted in Visions of a Future - A Study of Christian Eschatology: “Only unmitigated pride and conceit would allow us to say that God is concerned only with the human race and that questions about the rest of creation are of no religious or theological relevance.”
What happens to our pets (and all other animals) when they die? They return home to God. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God cares for all creation and deemed all creation “very good.” (See Genesis 1:31)
We hear in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matthew 6:26) (Who feeds them? God feeds them!)
Or again from Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.” In other words, God, the Creator of ALL There Is, is deeply divinely involved in everything created!
The two greatest acts of God are Creation and Redemption. All of creation came into existence through the Word of God, spoken in and through Christ. I believe all of creation will be redeemed through that same Word of Christ until God is All in All.
It was Augustine, that great ancient African theologian, who understood creation as the vast song of God. It was this same Augustine who markedly noted that the Bible tells us how to get to heaven, but does not tell us how the heavens work.
There should never be any conflict between science and religion. Science helps us understand the how of things. Religion helps us understand the why of everything.
As Hayes notes in The Gift of Being: A Theology of Creation: “Anyone whose understanding is grounded in a deeper knowledge of the Christian tradition does not need to be forced to choose between the Bible and science ... Science offers the best available knowledge of how the world operates. Theology (reflecting on faith) offers a vision of value, meaning, and hope. It would be a mistake to let either of these disciplines become the total picture.”
Salvation is primarily about healing. When any one of us is saved (which doesn’t happen until we go to God) that person is completely healed. My beloved Beth - when she went to God - was completely healed. When it is my turn to go to God, I believe I also will be completely healed.
As Paul points out in Romans - we are justified (or reconciled) before God through Christ but not yet saved (see Romans: 5:1-3). Salvation is on the way. Complete cosmic salvation will happen when Christ returns in all his glory to redeem (heal) everything in creation.
God has a profound plan for what God has created. We call this plan “salvation history.” We can also call it God’s divine “providence.” God has a plan to completely heal everything that is broken in creation. This is a bedrock Biblical belief.
“To be created is to exist in absolute dependence on the free, loving creativity of God. Created existence, therefore, in the deepest sense is pure gift.” (Hayes) We, humans, have been given a great gift: the gift of existence, the grace of being alive.
Yet this is a gift we share with millions of other species. Why would God not be concerned with those other species? And, yes, I believe we humans hold a special place in God’s creation. Yet all of creation is in the process of being reborn/saved. All of God’s creation is deeply intertwined.
So - back to Katie - will Katie be waiting at heaven’s gate to excitedly welcome Barbara when she finally goes to God? How could it be otherwise? If our loving departed pets are not waiting for us in heaven, then heaven cannot be what I believe it is.
My beloved Beth was certain her loving cats, Mona and Dante, would be awaiting her in heaven. And over the years, I wisely learned not to dispute Beth’s beliefs. Likewise, after so many years as a Franciscan, a little brother to all creatures, great and small, how could I possibly argue with her deeply held belief?
Everything created comes from the heart and hand of our Creator. Everything created returns to the heart and the hand of our Creator. Where is Katie? Katie is with the One who fashioned her and gave her life. And I believe Katie was welcomed home with: “Good dog, Katie, good dog!”
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor