It was Sunday morning. I was supposed to preach at Faith Church from the Sermon on the Mount, but instead, I was lying in a hospital bed with a case of cellulitis that required IV antibiotic infusions. Looking for a biblically faithful sermon on television was useless; Charles Stanley was about done with his message when I looked; the only others I could find were Joel Osteen and Sheila Schuller Coleman.
So I resorted to the Internet, looked for Alistair Begg at Parkside Church in suburban Cleveland and was blessed with a great sermon from Mark 5 on the raising of Jairus’s daughter. Pastor Begg started his sermon by reading an article from Newsweek by Lisa Miller, “We Are All Hindus Now.” Miller argues convincingly that though Americans still overwhelmingly claim to be Christian, the world view that is taking over is anything but Christian. It is more Hindu than Christian. Have you noticed this obvious change? What are the indicators?
Instead of embracing the claims of Jesus that He is the exclusive way to God, John 14:6, Americans are embracing the Hindu view of many paths to God. A 2008 Pew Forum survey revealed that 65% believe that “many religions lead to eternal life,” including 37% of self-professed evangelicals.
Instead of the linear understanding of the Bible, it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27), more Americans are embracing the circular beliefs of Hinduism; 24% according to a 2008 Harris poll claim belief in reincarnation.
In terms of spiritual practices, Americans love the pragmatic, “whatever works for you” cafeteria approach. The concern is not consistent revealed truth, but a religious tossed salad. Lakers coach Phil Jackson models this, blending his Pentecostal Christian heritage with Zen Buddhism and Lakota Sioux, native American philosophy. Another spiritual recipe might mix Christian disciplines with yoga, plus a weekend Buddhist retreat and any other spiritual tradition; a concoction that is “very much in the spirit of Hinduism,” according to Boston University religion professor, Stephen Prothero.
Now, to clarify my own position, I have never embraced any of those Hindu characteristics, nor any of the 300 million, more or less, gods of Hinduism. That’s a lot of deities to pacify, leaving you with no hope. But much to my surprise, I found that I have in the past inadvertently encouraged another common Hindu belief as I have responded to comments at funerals.
The comment, intended to bring comfort in the face of death, goes something like this. Looking at the casket or the body in the casket, the comforter says, “That’s not her, she is in heaven.” The hope of heaven is not a hope for Hindus, but what is very Hindu is the attitude toward the body, something to be rid of. As the body burns on a pyre, the spirit of man escapes to be recycled into another being. The Hindu practice of cremation reflects this negative view of the body. And guess what? Cremation is now the choice for about one third of Americans, up from just 6% in 1975, a greater than 500% increase.
Alistair Begg rightly challenges the false theology of the song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” More accurately, we should say, “Heaven is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” A bodiless existence in Heaven is not the final state, but the intermediate state for the spirit of man; and the grave is not the “final resting place,” but the intermediate state for the body.
The separation of the body and the spirit that occurs at death is a temporary state of being away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8) But for the dead, the descriptive word for the body is “asleep” because the best is still yet to come with the resurrection of the body and the restoration of the body and the spirit into the whole person in which believers will enjoy a very physical eternal life in a new heaven and a new [restored]earth (Revelation 21:1ff).
To be sure, the Hindu practice of cremation is being embraced by Christians, not because they desire to overtly adopt Hindu theology, but for pragmatic reasons; lower cost compared to traditional burial with all the trappings; and supposed environmental concerns. And of course, I don’t disagree that God is not stymied by ashes, whether scattered or buried; nor is God limited in regard to His resurrection promise by bodies that are buried at sea, destroyed and consumed by sharks or any other destruction of the body.
Thus my primary objection is not with the means by which the body is set aside at death; and certaintly I’m not worried that we might hinder God’s promise and ability to raise the dead, but that we lose the powerful witness that is evident in the connection between burial and the Christian hope of resurrection.
We speak of “going to heaven when you die” as if that is it. But that’s not all there is. Just as all of creation longs to be restored to the perfection of Eden, so we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as son, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved… (Romans 8:23, 24)
Even if you still plan on cremation, please don’t diminish the value of the body and the great hope of physical resurrection. Hindu philosophy leaves us without hope. Christians are hope filled because Jesus is our hope of salvation for both the spirit and the body.
For further reflection: Timothy George, “Good Question: Cremation Confusion Is it unscriptural for a Christian to be cremated?” Christianity Today, May 21, 2002