As I sip coffee from a favorite mug, a question stares back at me: "If The Rapture Happened Right Now, What Would Happen To Your Pets?" A friend bought me this mug as a joke after I posted remarks on Facebook about the business After the Rapture Pet Care. (You can see the mug in question on their homepage). I laughed when I first stumbled on the company's website and marveled at the cleverness of its founders. As they explain, the idea for the service originated from a mix of humor (on the part of those who do not believe in the rapture), earnest faith (on the part of those who do), and a love for animals (on the part of both camps). The idea -- whether tongue-in-cheek or genuine in its desire to serve customers and their pets -- is brilliant. Many believe Christians, and only Christians, will disappear one day, taken out of a sinful world by God Almighty. Building on this premise, After the Rapture Pet Care has volunteers in place who are "atheist" or who adhere to a "non-Christian religion," all of them ready to rescue cats, dogs, and other domestic animals left behind when their believing owners meet Jesus in the clouds. According to this belief system, these non-Christian volunteers will have no part in this momentous event nor will the nonhumans they care for in the post-rapture world.
For my part, I do not share the view that the people of God will one day magically and literally fly out of a doomed world, leaving the wicked to suffer a grim fate. I see no biblical support for this idea, which is little more than a fairly recent and curious footnote in the long history of Christian theological thought. Even more puzzling, however, is the casual assumption (by After the Rapture Pet Care's earnest clients) that animals have no part in an eschatological resolution to all things. Is this really the case?
Those who promote the idea of a pre-tribulation rapture of the church -- for the most part limited to pockets of North American evangelicals -- rest their case largely on a literal reading of a single passage (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). What is unfortunate though is how inordinate attention to one text contributes to the neglect of many others in popular theological thinking, which brings me back to the question raised in my title. Why must we assume animals have no part in the Kingdom of God?
My modest suggestion is that the rapture doctrine, at least as popularly conceived, is remarkably anthropocentric. Does God really not care about the rest of creation? As a partial response to theologies of exclusion, those focusing only on humanity and its plight, we ought to contemplate a wider selection of biblical writings. In doing so, we might just find that animals and the material world we share with them are also of interest to the prophets and apostles. As we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, we also ought to read passages that refer to God's interest in, and care for other living things as a counterpart to hubris. Consider...
- Job 38:26, where we learn God brings rain on lands where no humans live. Why, if only humans matter?
- Job 38-41, where we discover humanity's "dominion" (cf. Genesis 1:26) does not mean absolute rule or an ability to understand the wider world. God's presentation of the wonders of creation humbles Job.
- Psalm 104, which celebrates the creator God and God's concern for all living things.
- Genesis 1:24-31, which reports that the animals and humans God makes on the same day are all good.
- Colossians 1:15-20, in which we find expression of a Christian hope for the restoration of all creation, not just humanity, because in Christ "all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible .... all things have been created through him and for him."
- Isaiah 11:6-9, which illustrates how the prophets imagined a world without violence, with humans and animals alike participating in that peaceful kingdom.
- Jonah 4:11, which tells us explicitly that God's concern extends to both humans and animals.