2006-07-26 - Summer Questions
2006 #9 ~ Cremation
Note from the sender, Jan: I will add a hearty amen to this devotional and would like to include a personal note. I am going to be cremated. I consider it good stewardship of the Earth. Why should my physical body take up space on the Earth - which is too cluttered anyway - when my true self isn't physical? :)
Revelation 20:13, "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one according to their deeds."
"In Revelations, I read where the earth gave up it's dead/ Does that mean if you are creamated at death you can rise to Heaven?"
The verse we started with is, I think, the verse that you are referencing. We will try to look into this question respecting cremation specifically, and I hope to avoid the eschatalogical issues that surround the verse and this passage. While the Bible does give us a window into the end times, I am not one to pretend I can give an accurate portrayal of those figurative-laden passages that respect the return of our Lord and the events surrounding His return.
The Bible ends with God winning, and that is the only solid truth I need to know and apply to my life. When all the books are closed, and the Lord is reigning in Glory, we shall know the true meanings of prophetic texts such as this, and I would rather focus on practical matters of our faith than speculate upon the end times or matters I have little or no control over. However, the implications of your question are practical, because in a sense, what you are asking respects the issue of cremation and whether it can be practiced or not.
We can say the the Bible teaches that all the dead are raised, without respect to age, character, or type of burial they underwent. How this takes place is the subject of great speculation, but wisdom would lead us to conclude that the "when" and "manner" are ultimately beyond our comprehension.
Some passages for those interested in further study would be John 5:21-29, 1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. There will be a purification of the body in the resurrection. Our bodies will become glorified like that of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:49,51, Romans 6:5-9, Philippians 3:20, 21). It is interesting that none of these passages put any exclusion upon who is raised, but rather phrase it in an all inclusive manner, saying all are raised. Some are raised to glory through and in Christ - and some, being outside of salvation in Christ, are raised unto the second death, as Revelation 20:14, 15 warns us, they were, "thrown into the lake of fire."
When we come to the issue of cremation we find in the Old Testament that the Jews did, on various occasions, practice cremation. There are some today among Christians who also practice cremation. The understanding is as Psalm 24:1 tells us, "The earth is the Lord's and all it contains." (see also Exodus 9:29, Jeremiah 51:15, Psalm 104:24, and a host of other passages.) The general idea being here that all the Earth is the Lords. He created it. It is His. This ownership of all things by God includes every molecule; even the very dust belongs to the Lord, and He may do with it as He is pleased. We see this in Ezekiel 37, with Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones; 37:8, "And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew, and skin covered them..." The Lord was able to raise up an army from a valley of dry bones. Since all this is His, He can raise up any who have reverted to whatever condition in body, to newness of life. This would include those who died at sea, were cremated, or just decayed to the point where nothing but dust is left. The Earth is the Lords, and we must also remember that our resurrection bodies are spiritual bodies, and there will be a difference between the substance of our physical bodies now, and the nature of our spiritual bodies in the resurrection.
However, the common practice of the Jews in the Old Testament was to bury their dead. They did practice cremation in some circumstances. Those punished for a heinous crime (Leviticus 20:14, 21:9) were sometimes cremated. Also there were times of plague when there were too many to bury and these were cremated, and even Saul and his sons were burned (1 Samuel 31:11-13). However, it was considered a dishonor to be burned, and an even a greater dishonor to lie unburied, because the animals would have free pass to the body.
However, we don't see a prohibition to cremation in Scripture. This is true in the New Testament church and practice also. There is no prohibition to cremation, but the respect for the body has generally led to the practice of burial. However, in the end, the reality of Genesis 3:19 is still true, "Till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return."
I hope that begins to answer your question, but also gives you some passages with which you can dig into this topic a little more deeply on your own. And I think I have, in a roundabout manner, answered your question that, yes, those who have been creamated can be raised to Heaven.
Soli Deo Gloria,