When a beloved dog dies, veterinarians often attempt to help comfort their grieving owners by showing them a famous speech spoken by trial lawyer George Graham Vest. In 1870, Vest represented a Missouri farmer suing for damages after a neighbor maliciously shot and killed his dog, Old Drum. He won the case with the following speech.
“Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.
The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.”
In John 15:13, Jesus says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” If Jesus considers it noble for a human to sacrifice his life on behalf of a friend, animals that do the same must also be recognized as noble. We know of countless instances of dogs, horses and other animals sacrificing their lives to protect their human companions. It shouldn’t embarrass us to grieve the deaths of any of our valiant, devoted and loving animal companions and pets, or to want to see them again.
In recognition of our pets’ faithfulness, love and devotion, might a loving, wise God also allow them to participate in the resurrection alongside humanity? In discussions about resurrection and eternity, church Bible teachers are commonly asked if people might be reunited with the pets and animals they have loved dearly.
In John’s prophetic glimpse of the unfolding eternal future, Jesus declares from his throne on the New Earth: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). He doesn’t mean merely that humans are to be renewed but also all the earth “and all things” in it. This means the inanimate earth along with its rich, diverse biological life, including trees, flowers, fish, birds, deer, horses cats, dogs, insects and all other living things will also be beneficiaries of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ’s emphasis isn’t on making new things but on restoring and perfecting all of what is familiar to us. Jesus intends to remake people, all of nature and the earth itself in a way that is fresh and everlastingly indestructible.
It is worth noting that in the biblical flood story God didn’t abandon or destroy his beloved creation, He preserved a remnant of both humans and animals to renew it. After the ark lands, God makes an everlasting covenant (not to destroy the earth again with a flood) with both humans and with all other creatures living upon the earth, and denotes the rainbow as the symbol of His everlasting promise.
Christ didn’t die for animals the way he did for mankind. Humans are made in God’s image, animals aren’t. People sinned, animals didn’t. But in Romans chapter 8, the apostle Paul tells us the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. In Acts 3:21, Peter prophesies about a universal restoration of things when Jesus returns. By restoring His original creation, God will show the totality of His victory over sin and death. Isaiah, Peter and John all speak of a New Earth, a place where resurrected mankind and the animals of the earth will live in peace (Isa.65:17-25), experiencing wondrous freedom from death and decay.
Many well-known theologians such as John Wesley and C.L. Lewis believed and have written about how animals will be resurrected alongside humans. Wesley in particular, believed that animals will be resurrected to a higher state (than we presently know them), capable of fully knowing, loving and appreciating the Author of their being.
If we believe our Creator loves both humans and animals, (He even takes notice of the death of a sparrow: Matt. 10:29), and that he intends to liberate all his creatures from bondage resulting from human sin, then why not hope that the animals we love will rejoin us again on the New Earth. Our loving God might also be moved by Mr. Vest’s words.
Footnote: In 1958, a statue of Old Drum was erected on the Johnson County Missouri Courthouse lawn containing a summation of Vest’s closing speech, “A man’s best friend is his dog.” It is among the most plausible of origins for our conception of dogs being “man’s best friend.”