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A Heart For God: On the Subject of Cremation

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On the Subject of Cremation

As America's population ages and finances decline, the question can arise among Christians as to whether or not cremation is a reasonable alternative to what can sometimes be a very costly traditional approach to burial. I'd like to offer a quick answer to this question even though it may be controversial to some. First of all, there isn't anything explicitly said in the Scriptures about cremation per se and whether or not it's forbidden or not forbidden by God. And yet there are some evidences (both Biblical and historical) that point to the Lord frowning upon cremation as a practice. One such evidence is revealed in Leviticus 20:14 & 21:9 and Joshua 7:15, 25. (Click references to read.) In each of these places God commanded the Jews to deal with particular sins by burning the perpetrators. So burning a dead body, in the Jewish mind, was equated with heinous sins. And this could very well be the reason why the Jews as a nation were opposed to cremation while both the Greeks and the Romans were known to cremate corpses quite often. (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, pg. 672) Now I couldn't help but be reminded of how Jesus said that in hell there is a fire that cannot be quenched. (Mark 9:44, 46, 48) So hell is literally a place where eternal cremation, if you will, takes place. Those sentenced to hell will have their bodies on fire forever. It's this picture (along with historical Jewish thinking on the matter) that moves me to believe that cremation is not the best approach when it comes to dealing with the dead. My verdict, therefore, is to frown on the practice of cremation. And I think there's good evidence to support it.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Whitney said...

great post.

i questioned this for a while; not seeking biblical reference.

i just cannot imagine.
not an option i would ever consider.

thanks for tackling this.

whitney
@Child0fGod

4:29 PM  
Blogger GodsSunflower said...

Thanks, Pastor Mike. I never thought of it that way - just that the idea of cremation gives me the creeps. lol You made a valid point! God bless!

5:07 AM  
Blogger Vincent Murphy said...

As we are sinners, perhaps that makes the burial of a sinner more suitable? In any case I worry about any suggestion that what happens to the physical body after death is important; for it is to cast a doubt upon the power of God himself and the promise of the resurrection.

The only thing I have against cremation is that it is so commercial. Then again, many burial services are just as commercial. Personally I feel it is time to roll burial and funerals back to the basics: shroud, spade and service of thanksgiving.

3:19 AM  
Blogger Chase Warren said...

As far as I can tell I agree with Vincent Murphy. Was cremation practiced by Roman and Greek pagans? Yes. Were the Jews the ONLY ones who buried their dead? Finding evidence for an indefinite yes would be difficult. Many Christian martyrs were burned at the stake and their bodies will be raised just as every other Christian's will be one day. I personally do not advise cremation for two reasons: (1) My body is the temple of the Almighty God, why should I burn it willingly? and (2) My Savior was buried and because I want to be like Him I will choose burial if I am able.

6:59 PM  
Blogger julie and mike said...

The body is dust...not too long after burial we are all the same thing that happens when you burn a dead body....I'm not sure God cares what happens to the dead corpse that USED TO house our soul...and the point of burning people who broke the Law doesn't really apply to us right? We don't avoid pork now right? We don't make our women sit outside of our cities when they are menstruating right? I think the references you tied to this are really reaching. Just my humble opinion.

7:04 PM  
Blogger TAG-Freedom said...

Well, we've been burning bodies in the UK for quite some time, and it's not commercial here; rather it is undertaken by the local authority for a fee, although the undertaker will make the arrangements. Not sure that many 'Christians' see any harm in it.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Maverick said...

The body is merely a container for the Holy Spirit. Our physical bodies are nothing more than a shell. Once the spirit has left the body the body will decompose and turn into dust just the same as it does during cremation.

And frankly the discussion of whether to cremate or not cremate always bugs me. My body and spirit has always been with God from the beginning as the eventual bride of Christ. When I am reborn I will return in a glorified new body, not the same body as went into the soil or a furnace.

The message of how to deal with the dead is unimportant. What is important is focusing on the message of the Gospel and teaching people the message of being saved by grace through faith. More time should be spent dealing with this topic than anything else.

http://www.jesuslovesme.org

8:32 AM  
Blogger Dan Nieman said...

I have performed funeral services, where the body of the deceased was creamated. For many of those who grieve the loss of their loved one, the grief seems to be harder, than for those who are able to say goodbye to the person before burial.

4:43 AM  
Blogger KY_Evangelist said...

Interesting discussion on a subject I've been giving much thought to lately. We're living under grace, not law, and the first two Bible references came from the old Testament (law) so I don't believe they would apply to us today.

As believers we have been rescued from an eternity in hell by Jesus sacrifice, so I think the reference to hell being an eternal cremation would only apply to the lost.

Our bodies are flesh, but our new bodies will be spirit. To be absent from our fleshly bodies is to be present with Jesus. I don't believe Jesus cares what happens to our fleshly remains, be they buried or cremated.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Christopher de Vidal said...

Nobody's mentioned costs. Is cremating less expensive? I want the very least costs for my non-working wife to bear. I've told her repeatedly to make it a pine box or something.

Given that the Bible deals with heart issues significantly more than outer actions (Matt 15:8), one has to wonder if the Scriptures presented as a case against cremation were forbidden because the motives for burning the body were ungodly? That would be an entirely different scenario today.

If the costs are less and the Scriptures would not forbid the motive, I say burn me up after my spirit has departed. All bodies, even burnt ones, will be resurrected and made whole again.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Jason A. said...

With respect I have to disagree. Like an above poster, I question the direct applicability of the Old Testament passages. Remember that one function of the the OT Law was to distinguish Israel from the Canaanite neighbors. The idolatrous practices of these cultures included many (to our ears and to God's eyes) unseemly practices such as child sacrfice to Molech and ritual prostitution to the many fertility cults. Obedience was a sign of holiness to YHWH as a set apart people. Jesus came as the telos of that law. Gentiles brought into the New covenant were not to be under Moses (Galatians en toto) We are simply not under law, and to take these passages as a ban against cremation is in my opinion a hermeneutical error. 1 Corinthians 15:35-55 which focuses on the resurrection body makes no mention of method of burial which were highly varied at the time of Paul (1st century Roman Empire). It's important to note that the Jews left the bodies in tombs to rot and then simply pushed the bones aside (being gathered to one's fathers) or put them in a box (ossuary) but many Romans and other Gentiles also cremated their dead. It is highly likely that many Christians practiced one practice or another as well (see the catacombs in Rome for burial examples). If Paul wanted to ban the practice, here in 1 Corinthians 15 would have been the perfect location, but we see no such ban. Ashes to ashes dust to dust is a truism but the means of becoming dust doesn't appear important to Paul. What WAS important to him and should be to us is the hope of the resurrection. I think "frowining" on a practice that is both financially wise and honoring to the deceased may be unhelpful in the long run, particularly if after all the Scripture really aren't speaking a ban against it. Just my thoughts.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Jason A. said...

Also, @KY Evangelist. It's important to point out two separate realities. If we die before Christ returns, we will go to be with the Lord, in the intermediate state. When Christ returns to bring about the New Heavens and New Earth (New Creation for short!) we will be embodied beings again. Our glorified bodies will be fleshly. It's common in our Evangelical circles to forget that because we focus so much on heaven! For a great treatment of that subject, see "Suprised by Hope", by renowned NT Theologian N.T. Wright.

10:07 PM  

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