If the entire creation–not just human beings–is to be taken up into the divine life (deified, to use the term Edwards prefers), then it makes sense to ask whether individual, sentient, non-human creatures (i.e., animals) will participate in the new creation. Edwards thinks that, based on the character of the God revealed in Jesus, we can hope that animals will share in the resurrection life.
He points out that the Bible affirms God’s love for each thing that he has made. Further, the God revealed in Jesus is one of boundless compassion. At the very least, Edwards says, we must affirm that God remembers, holds in the divine mind, the travails and triumphs, sufferings and joys of each one of his creatures. But, he goes on to argue, the biblical concept of God’s memory is much more robust and metaphysically significant than our ordinary human concept. For God to remember us is for God to hold us in the divine mind, to keep the divine attention on us. Metaphysically, God’s holding us in the divine mind is what keeps us and the entire world from lapsing into non-existence. Moreover, the incarnation is God’s assumption of flesh, not just humanity. In some way, it reconciles “all things” to God, not just wayward human beings. So is there something more we can hope for in terms of animal participation in the life of the world to come?
I have been proposing that each animal is known and loved by God, is the dwelling place of the Creator Spirit, participates in redemption in Christ, and abides forever in the living memory of God. Can more be said? I think it can. It can be said that animals will reach their redemptive fulfillment in Christ. They will not only be remembered and treasured, but be remembered in such a way as to be called into new life. (How God Acts, p. 165)
Edwards admits that we can’t really form an imaginative picture of what this would be like, but, then, the same is true of the resurrection of human beings. Our inability to adequately imagine something doesn’t show that it isn’t real. As he says, the “basis for our hope is not our imagination but the God revealed in Jesus. … As Elizabeth Johnson has said, our hope is not based upon information about the future but on ‘the character of God’ revealed in the Christ-event” (p. 165). Animal fulfillment, Edwards says, must be based on their proper nature, and we don’t need to think of it as strictly parallel to human fulfillment. “The God of resurrection life is a God who brings individual creatures in their own distinctiveness in some way into the eternal dynamic life of the divine communion” (p. 165).
In some ways, the problem of animal suffering is more acute for theology than that of human suffering. This isn’t because animal suffering matters more (whatever that might mean), but because, as C. S. Lewis memorably put it, animals can neither deserve nor be improved by pain (as humans arguably can). Plus, there’s no free-will defense available for animal suffering, at least not directly. If God has the character that Christians believe he does, and if the distinctively Christian answer to the problem of evil is that God has acted and is acting to redeem his creation, then it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that God will include his beloved animals in the resurrection life.