Where do animals fit in the eternal plan of things?
, director, Institute of Religion, Berkeley, California
“Nature helps us to see and understand God. To all His creations we owe an allegiance of service and a profound admiration.” Thus the General Superintendency of the Deseret Sunday School Union, President Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church, and Elders David O. McKay and Stephen L. Richards, members of the Council of the Twelve, editorialized in the April 1918 Juvenile Instructor. Recognizing that the “love of nature is akin to the love of God” they reminded the members of the Church that “men learn more easily in sympathetic relationships of all life than they do in the seclusion of human interest.” (p. 183.) Many families recognize the importance of pets and the resultant loving and sharing among their children. Caring for pets can also develop a sense of responsibility.
Devotion of animals to families can be inspiring as well as practical. A recent news item related the bravery of a dog in saving the life of a small girl by breaking the window of a burning automobile and pulling her to safety.
A number of questions have been asked concerning the place of animals in the gospel plan:
Do animals have spirits and are they resurrected? Yes. The Prophet Joseph Smith received information concerning the eternal status of animals. Answers to questions he posed are in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 77. He also spoke about the resurrection of animals in a sermon but did not expand on the subject. (History of the Church, 5:343.)
To what degree of glory do animals go? The scriptures speak only of animals being in the celestial kingdom. Whether they go to other kingdoms is a matter of conjecture. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith on one occasion said the distribution of animals into all three degrees of glory is “very probable.” (Improvement Era, Jan. 1958, p. 16–17.) To my knowledge, no other prophet has published an opinion on the subject.
Are animals judged and resurrected according to their obedience to laws? According to Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, animals do not have a conscience. They cannot sin and they cannot repent, for they have not knowledge of right and wrong. (Man: His Origin and Destiny, Deseret Book Co., 1954, pp. 204–205.)
Can animals be with their owners in the hereafter? There is no revealed word on this subject. Reason would tell us that a rancher or farmer may not want all of the cattle he has owned during his life. On the other hand, emotional ties may be honored and family pets may well be restored to their owners in the resurrection, Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote that Joseph Smith expected to have his favorite horse in eternity. (Improvement Era, August 1927, p. 855.)
Just what is the relationship between men and animals? Men are children of God. Animals are for the benefit of man. This does not mean, however, that man is not to have a concern for this part of his stewardship. The prophets in all ages have indicated that man will be accountable for his treatment of animals and that justice and mercy should be exercised concerning them. Alma encourages us to pray over our flocks. (Alma 34:20, 25.) There are numerous examples in Church history of animals being administered to by the anointing of oil and their resultant healing. In the best-known incident, Mary Fielding Smith’s oxen were spared to bring her pioneer family, including a future President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, to Utah. (Preston Nibley, Presidents of the Church, Deseret Book Co., 1959, pp. 234–34.)
Though the prophets have spoken frequently about man’s responsibility to treat animals properly in this world, very little detail is known about the states of animals in the eternities. Greater emphasis is rightly placed upon man’s need to live the gospel and be worthy to return to his Heavenly Father where he will then learn the answers to such questions. Quoting again from the editorial cited at the beginning of this article: “Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. I exalt the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor.” (Juvenile Instructor, April 1918, p. 182.)