Note: About five years ago I dealt with the subject of cremation in this column. Since then I have received numerous requests to run that particular answer again, in addition to receiving letters on the subject from those who have not seen my original reply. So here it is. Many people seem to be facing this issue these days.
I am a born-again believer, saved from Catholicism for 30 years now. However, I have never heard much about whether or not a Christian should be cremated after death. Could you please fill me in from the Scriptures?
Your question is becoming more and more relevant with time, since the practice is increasingly popular, especially in highly populated areas. Also, the high cost of funerals is a factor that enters in. I understand that in places such as Florida, there are “clubs” for senior citizens, with discounts in various goods and services for their members—including cremation fees.
Many personal feelings and opinions enter into the picture. Some believe the trend toward cremation is another indication that Americans live in a post-Christian era. Others literally turn white at the thought of it. I heard of a seminary student and his wife who lost a young child. Because of finances, they considered a cremation, but then they decided against it. Later they were thankful they hadn’t gone through with the idea.
Even though no Bible passages command, “Thou shalt not cremate,” I believe that there are some strong arguments in the Scriptures against the practice. Ultimately the individual will have to decide what position he will take in the matter. Hopefully, he will base his decision on Biblical principles rather than on mere emotions.
As Bible-believing Christians we believe in the resurrection of the body. The apostle Paul wrote concerning the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15 quite extensively, and a couple messages come forth from this passage that relate to our issue.
First, the body belongs to God. Certainly Paul had already written in this letter: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (3:16, 17). While these statements might refer more to the living body, surely the principles extend to the body of the person who has gone to be with the Lord. Much truth lies in the statement that when people begin to lose respect for the dead, they begin to lose respect for life. Only God creates life, and only God takes away life. We cannot separate God from the human body. Although we must not worship the body, we must treat it with great respect, because our attitude reflects on the Creator. Cremation is an act of man; in contrast, when a body is placed in the earth, it returns to dust in a natural way—an act of God.
Notice another point in 1 Corinthians 15: Paul’s reference to the grave—He wrote in verse 55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” This question seems to assume that burial is the proper Christian way to dispose of the body. Remember, burial looks forward to the resurrection. Cremation does not. Some would argue that at the resurrection, the body’s composition doesn’t matter. Then they point to drownings, victims of fires, and so forth. They also use martyrs as an example. But the difference between cremation and all of these examples is that we can’t do anything about catastrophic deaths or accidents. However, we can do something about those deaths where we make the decision to bury or to cremate. One person wrote:
Certainly under normal conditions we show much more respect for the bodies of our loved ones if they are tenderly laid away in the earth, under the coverlet of green, in the posture of rest or sleep, and in as good a state of preservation as possible. The body is as really and eternally a part of man as is his spirit. . . . If we attach a sentimental value to a Bible or an article of clothing or other keepsake, how much more should we treat reverently the body that has been so much more intimately associated with the person.
Thus we can say that, in essence, when we bury a Christian loved one, we are planting a seed for the resurrection!
Burial has been associated with God’s people throughout time; whereas, burning the body has been associated with non-Christian religions. In case after case, Bible characters who believed in God buried others and were buried themselves. God Himself practiced burial, as we see in the death of Moses (Deut. 34:5, 6). Even when burials were difficult, people still performed them. See Genesis 50:24, 25; Exodus 13:19; and Joshua 24:32.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.