It seems to me that here in the USA we are in denial when it comes to dealing with death. We prepare for the births of our children, we prepare for their educational years, we save for retirement…and some people do pre-pay and plan out their funerals, and take out life insurance policies on their spouses. But when it comes to final decisions regarding cremation or burial, we might be making them too blithely, without wanting to give much thought to particulars–without consulting God’s word for answers.
So a couple of weeks ago, our Sunday evening Bible study veered into the topic of death when we were studying the life of Joseph, and his father Jacob, in Genesis 47:29-30, was emphasizing his desire that his body be returned to be buried in the land of his fathers. Suddenly we were all discussing this matter of Christian burial, and wanting to know if cremation was a biblical option. Our pastor decided we’d devote a couple of Sunday evening classes to the topic, and here I am, to share my notes.
First a couple of passages stand out to me:
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
Jeremiah 10:2, “Learn not the way of the heathen.”
Burning dead bodies has long been a heathen practice. Take India for example. We learned that cremation is centuries old in India. Did you know that Christians in India do not want to be associated with the heathens, and so they try to avoid cremating their loved ones when they die? Interesting.
Romans 15:4 tells us that the things written “aforetime were written for our learning“. In the Old Testament, in Genesis, we are given m.a.n.y. accounts of the deaths and burials of God’s people…so it seems we are given the scriptural example that burial is His way. Even in the New Testament we see Stephen, the first martyr, carried to his burial. Conversely, we see God using fire as punishment, as a way of showing forth His wrath.
- He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire
- When Aaron’s sons offered “strange fire” to the Lord, He sent a fire to consume their bodies
- Korah’s group was swallowed up by the ground and immediately after God sent fire to burn up 250 men that were there offering incense
- Idols were to be burned and destroyed
- Achan and his family and livestock were stoned and then burned
But Amos 2:1-2 was the most convincing for me…
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away [the punishment] thereof; because he burned the bones of the king of Edom into lime:
But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, [and] with the sound of the trumpet:
Keep in mind, this is a PAGAN nation that *transgressed* by burning the bones of the King of Edom into lime! This pagan nation reaped bigtime punishment for what we Christians are ceasing to think twice about doing to our loved ones after death.
We reason it away though. We think, cremation is affordable. It’s sanitary. It’s just their body, not their soul or spirit. It’s easy. Our pastor pointed to Joseph’s bones…wouldn’t it have been easier to burn them rather than keep track of them for the 400 years the Hebrews were enslaved in Egypt, not to mention the hassle of carrying them around with them for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before finally getting to put them to rest in the promised land? It kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Why weren’t the Civil War soldiers’ bodies heaped in a big pile and burned after the battles? That would have been easier, cheaper, more sanitary, and less messy. But it would have been so disrespectful. Instead, burial “details” were sent out to bury the dead, because those men deserved a special, honorable burial. Can you see how desensitized we’ve become?
1 Corinthians 6:19 says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Even though our spirit and soul are not there anymore, the temple is. God bought us–He owns our bodies. We should glorify God with our body, whether in life or in death.
Think about this a little more with me. Laws in the Old Testament forbid mutilation of the body. Are we “without natural affection” (2 Timothy 3:3)? A hundred years ago, when families prepared the bodies of their loved ones for burial, they called it a “decent, Christian burial.” Can you imagine them stoking up the fire outside and throwing their dead family member’s body into it? If we had to prepare our child for burial, would we choose to cremate? Could you burn the body of your pet when it dies? Most people, I would hope, would shudder at the thought. But we don’t have to “watch it happen”–so we sanitize it in our minds, we deny the horror of it.
Why did the Roman Catholic Church burn martyrs at the stake? To humiliate and dishonor their bodies. They actually exhumed the body of John Wycliffe, put it on trial, found his bones guilty and burned him at the stake. No doubt their intention was to dishonor this man and his work on the Holy Scriptures.
Romans 14:7-8 sums it up,
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.
The Bible may not seem to summarily answer the question of cremation vs. burial for Christians, but it does put forth principles, that when studied, hold the answers. Do you agree?
Part 3 will deal with other options available to us when a loved one dies, because if you recall from Part 1, my horror at the embalming process is what turned me to consider cremation in the first place. So what is a gal to do? Stay tuned!
Read Part 1 here.