WHAT ABOUT CREMATION?
What a cheerful topic!!! But over my ministry it has come up time and time again whether Christians SHOULD, CAN, or ARE PERMITTED to be cremated. What does the bible say about cremation? Does it forbid it? Well, no. Can Christians be cremated? Yes. Should they be cremated? That is the uneasy question.
The ancient world and the modern world have various ways of disposing of dead bodies. The ancient Romans and Greeks (and Hindus) practiced cremation because they believed the soul was trapped in the body until fire released it. Hindus, with their belief in reincarnation, still believe this.
On the other hand, the Egyptians believed that the dead were waiting to get into their land of plenty and so they mummified their dead, preserving the corpse indefinitely. The rich buried their dead with food and other luxuries they would need there.
American Indians and other animists believed that man was a part of nature and should go back to nature. They tied their dead up in the trees or left it out in the open so the birds and animals could be nourished by human flesh.
The Hebrews and Jews had a different approach based on scripture. David wrote in Psalm 90 “You turn man back into dust And say, "Return, O children of men." For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night. “ God created us from the dust and to dust we will return. I spoke with rabbis who said the Jewish way of funerals is to wrap the deceased up in a sheet and bury them un-embalmed before the sun goes down that day. Their aim is to return the body to the dust. Then they worship God thanking Him for the gift of life.
Christians throughout history have for the most part chosen to bury their dead. You can see why in the word “cemetery”. Did you know this literally means “sleeping place”? "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Also read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 among other verses. Christians are concerned about a “decent burial” because we believe every human is created in the image of God and deserve to be treated better than the animals. At a Christians’ death the scriptures are read about God’s promise of eternal life and hymns are sung glorifying God. We also believe that when Jesus became flesh He sanctified humanity with hope that death cannot take away. WE believe that as Jesus was buried and raised bodily from the dead, so our bodies will be raised and joined back with our souls which at death immediately go to God and on the last day our bodies will be raised for the last judgment.
Now God can as easily raise our bodies back from the ashes as easily as from the dust from cremation. But as in life our bodies are a Christian witness, so at death they are also a witness. That is why we mark our bodies with grave stones.
There are concerns on both sides. Some burials today more resemble Egyptian than Christian. We go to great lengths to preserve the body while there is really no need. It is a rather recent thing to embalm bodies to the point some funerals deny the person is really dead “Look how lifelike she looks??” What’s the point! We are not Egyptians trying to keep us presentable to cross over the River Styx. We are also not animists who think we should turn bodies into food products to save the environment.
Now about cremation. In many places around the world we are running out of room for great, sprawling graveyards. Many Christians are being cremated because they don’t have the money, the time or the family and friends to go through the big ceremony, burial and headstone.
BUT, did you know the first cremation in the US took place in 1876 and it was a religious statement by atheists who had readings from Charles Darwin and the Hindu scriptures read. Cremation to liberals is their attempt to slap God’s face denying the resurrection or the value of human hope. Also it is a little concern when you hear people wanting their ashes kept on the mantle or scattered on the water (as the Hindus do). This can also be an attempt to slap God by saying “Let’s see if you can bring this back together!!!”
It is interesting to look into the Old Testament where cremations are spoken of, e.g., Achan, King Saul, and the King of Edom. These cremations involved God’s judgment and curse.
So has anything cleared up? Can you be cremated? Of course! Should you? Well, a Christian can if you do it respectfully, prayerfully and giving glory to God. Any other way would be sin. Most of us would say “I don’t care how I’m buried!” Well I do, I don’t want tied up in a tree for the birds to eat – I’d probably give them diabetes. I don’t want my head cut off and frozen in the hope science will find a way to bring it back to life. I have a better place to go. And if I’m cremated I would like a little tear shed, bury those ashes decently and a lot of prayer and scripture to proclaim that as in life – my death is a proclamation of God’s goodness and promises to the world of the resurrection to the life to come through Jesus Christ our Lord.
PASTOR DON – decaying more and more one day at a time.