2008-07-09 - Summer Question
2008 #4 ~ Bury or Cremate
Joshua 24:32, "Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel had brought up from Egypt."
Today's question: I was wondering if you could take on the subject of cremation... to do or not to do, that's the question.
I was speaking with someone concerning this topic of cremation or burial and mentioned that I had blocked out a few hours in the day to look into it. In the very brief conversation that ensued, the phrase was uttered, "Well, I suppose it really doesn't matter." This is a common view today, and as a matter of pragmatism - especially if you are living in NYC like me - where at least 10,000 people probably die every day, cremation makes a lot of practical sense. Do you have any idea what real estate goes for around here? Add to this that in an ultimate sense this is all God's creation. He is in control of it, and when the body decays, the particles that comprise it, will, given time, traverse all over the globe, and we might be able to conclude that it really is just a matter of choice. For some, there is an even stronger position for the practice of cremation as stewardship of God's Earth. All of this has validity, but if you will be patient with me, I will try to quickly give a non-exhaustive look at this topic.
At first, I will suggest the reading of a small booklet (32 pages) by Donald Howard, titled, "Burial or Cremation: Does it Matter?" ISBN #0-85151-803-6. Further study can be generated from the footnotes.
Putting the question of burial or cremation aside, let us say: Believers in Christ, who die in Christ, are with Christ. Burning or the natural decomposition of the body does not, one way or the other, affect the eternal state of the person. But this brings up an important point. The body is not just a body, but it is the body of a person. Death does not actually mean the end of the body, because Christians believe in a bodily resurrection.
The Biblical example that we have consistently given is that of burial of the body. It is the example that is found in the Old and New Testaments. In general, but not exclusively, the burning of the body is found to be a punishment in Scripture. It is also the example given in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. The placing of the Lord's body in the tomb was a burial. Peter runs faster than John to the tomb on the first day of the week and "bent down," or "stooping," looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there (John 20:1-5). It was a burial that Jesus underwent. He is to be our example in all things.
That is a very short answer, but I commend further reading in this area to anyone who is interested. It is interesting that the Christian martyrs were burned partly because their persecutors were seeking to weaken their hopes of a bodily resurrection. This is not possible for the believer, whether he/she undergoes cremation by fire or by natural elements and time. This is because our hope is in the promised resurrection of the body at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. But before we reject the example left to us by Scripture, and the historic interpretation of Scripture, and practice of the Christian Church, let us consider carefully what we do. We should all make our final plans regardless, and do so in hope that one day Christ will give us new bodies - resurrection bodies -- that are no longer marred by sin.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Editor's Note: The questions in this series are stated in the exact form sent by the readers - unedited, unproofed, in order to remain true to the reader's original wording.