It’s a question I’m asked, perhaps, a time or two per year. What do you think about cremation? Is it an acceptable means of disposing of the body instead of the more traditional Jewish and Christian tradition of burial.
I’m going to let my brother Wes share his answer with us as he did recently for his church family, Estes Brook Evangelical Free Church in central Minnesota.
From Wesley Macy:
After the sermon from Amos 1 & 2 on August 4th, three of you asked me about cremation. Amos tells us that the particular sin of Moab was that they “burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king” (Amos 2:1). By doing so, they expressed great disrespect for the king’s life. To be sure, the king of Edom was no saint, but this act of desecrating his body was unacceptable to God. So what about cremation today? Is this on par with Edom’s sin? Or, is it an acceptable means of dealing with death?
Grace Ann (Sharon’s mom) once asked me what I thought about cremation. I counseled her against it, but probably did not give her a very clear answer on the topic. Later, both of my parents-in-law were cremated and, according to their wishes, their ashes were scattered on the family farm in Oklahoma. I don’t believe Jesus will have any problem resurrecting Grace Ann’s body when He comes and ushers us into the new heavens and the new earth. At the same time, however, I don’t think cremation expresses our hope in the resurrection like the burial of the body does.
Arguments for cremation seem to revolve around public health, cost and good old American pragmatism. But it all comes at another cost – the cost of downplaying the significance of the body. If the body is just a shell (as the preacher said at the funeral of a saint, “This is just the shell, the nut has gone!”) to be discarded at death, then perhaps cremation is as good as any means of dealing with the body. But we Christians believe that the body matters. We believe in resurrection.So the Old Testament saints buried their dead.Jesus’ body was buried. Christians have long practiced burial because we believe that the body is significant and ought to be honored. And one day Jesus will return to earth “with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first…” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Cremation seems practical and is becoming more and more common in the culture and among Christians. While our current cremation practice is not specifically addressed in Scripture and I don’t think that cremation is necessarily a sin, and many Christians have been cremated, I encourage us all to reconsider it. As John Piper put it, “…it’s just not a custom I think the New Testament would naturally lead us to.”
For a more in-depth treatment of the topic, I commend an article by Russell D. Moore entitled, “Grave Signs – on the Godly Waste of Christian Burial”, which appeared in Touchstone magazine.
Concluding Comments by Tom Macy: Russell Moore’s article above is excellent, addressing fairly the pragmatic arguments that have moved people toward cremation, the impact of Christian tradition through history, the lack of specific and concrete biblical texts on the subject, and the biblical principles that lead him to encourage burial instead of cremation.