“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” Matthew 10:29
This passage reflects the benevolent providence thesis according to which God is providentially superintending the lives of all creatures. But if this is the case, then why does the sparrow fall to begin with? (Imagine how the sparrow parents would feel? It’s like if a human parent heard “Not one child suffers a fatal fall from an oak tree outside of your father’s care.”) Needless to say, the problem extends far beyond sparrows. Why does the baby robin drown in a puddle? Why does the tuna get eaten by the shark? Why does the female bat bug get impaled by her eager consort? Why why why…?
There may be no wholly satisfactory answer to these questions. But can the idea of animals in heaven provide at least some explanation? Could a resurrection life for animals offer a compensation for ills endured that could reconcile in our understanding the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity with the existence of animal suffering in the world?
Patrick.Sele proposes such an idea: “As for animal suffering, animals will be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1.” Patrick is right: a biblical conception of the new heavens and new earth does include animals. I discuss this at some length in my forthcoming book on hell titled What on earth do we know about heaven? (release: Fall 2013). At the same time, there are many practical problems with this thesis (as I explain in my essay “Why did God create carnivores?”). I’ll note three problems here.
Where are all these animals going to be placed?
If God’s going to resurrect all the animals that have ever suffered he will have to create hundreds of earths to put them all. (And if death is itself a form of suffering, does that mean that every single living organism that ever existed will be resurrected?) Imagine if, for example, earths 78-96 are the home of all the creatures of the Jurassic. There is no problem with an omnipotent being accomplishing this task. The simple question is whether this is plausible. Will there be a place in resurrection eternity for every ant ever incinerated by the magnifying glass of a wicked child?
How do you resurrect a carnivore?
I have a chapter on this question in my forthcoming book. If an animal’s rasion d’etre right now is tearing into the hide of unwitting prey, then how can that animal be resurrected in eternity? After all, its means of fulfillment is captured in the infliction of misery on other creatures.
How do you compensate an animal?
Finally, there is the problem of compensation. The problem here is conceptual in nature. In short, does it make sense to offer compensation to a creature that cannot understand the compensation being offered? If an impala suffered miserably when a cheetah ran it down, cuffed its right flank, and then sank gleaming incisors into its neck, does it understand that its resurrected body on a placid savannah purged of predation is a form of compensation for those miseries endured? And if not, is it still meaningful to call the impala’s resurrected existence a form of compensation for its pre-resurrection life?