Here are ten principles to consider:
1. This is an area of Christian freedom and preference. One may choose burial (in the ground or above the ground in a mausoleum) or cremation without violating any biblical command. If a Christian prayerfully decides on cremation over burial, no sin is committed.
2. Biblical Christianity exalts the human body as essential to our full humanity, personal identity and ultimate future eternal existence. The body of the believer presently is the temple of God and when resurrected will be new and glorified for eternity. Neither the choice of burial or cremation necessarily undermines the dignity of the human body or the miracle of the bodily resurrection.
3. Whether the body is cremated or buried, in either case the body will eventually totally decompose. The only difference is time.
At a Christian burial service by a coffin and fresh grave we often here the poetic phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” taken from the funeral service in the Book of Common Prayer based upon the following Scriptures:
– Genesis 3:19 “…for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
– Genesis 18:27 “…I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.”
– Job 10:9 “…Will you now turn me to dust again?”
– Job 30:19 “He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes.”
– Ecclesiastes 3:20 “…all come from dust, and to dust all return.”
In the Scientific American article “Dust to Dust: The Brief, Eventful Afterlife of a Human Corpse,” we read, “Death initiates a complex process by which the human body gradually reverts back to dust.”
Simply put, both biblically and scientifically, cremation merely fast tracks the process that occurs over time with burial.
4. Godly loving Christians may find cremation as treating the body of a loved with more dignity than burial. This is not pleasant to visualize, but some believers would rather have their loved ones quickly cremated, than to think of worms and microorganisms slowly eating away the face and torso. As Job put it contrasting two deaths, “Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both” Job 21:26.
5. Fire in the Bible describes the final place of demons and unbelievers and the angry judgment of God, but also communicates the glory and presence of God.
Achan and family were burned and stoned (interesting order) in judgment. Fire came down from heaven in judgement on occasion in the Bible. On the other hand, God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush, led the Israelites by a pillar of fire by night, and on Pentecost “tongues of fire” rested upon those gathered in the upper room.
To some, cremation awaiting a new resurrected body is a fitting parallel of the future new heaven and new earth after the fiery destruction of the old heavens and earth (2 Peter 3:10-12). A fallen body made new like a fallen universe made new.
6. It is unfair to insinuate that Christians who choose cremation are sliding into secularism or promoting an Eastern religious practice just as it would be unfair to say Christians who bury are supporting Islam, Judaism or most Native American tribes. Buddhists can chose either cremation or burial, is the pastor who offers that choice supporting Buddhism?
7. A practical problem with cremation raised by some is the difficulty in preventing dishonest switching of ashes or improper disposal of a body. While not a trivial issue, should the Christian be given the wrong ashes by unscrupulous people, God knows and will have no problem with proper identity at the resurrection. State regulations and insisting upon an audio-visual recording of the process could prevent this.
But is this any substantial argument against cremation? In the past with grave robbers more common, would that have been a valid argument against burial?
8. The least expensive burial is at least twice as costly than the least expensive cremation. A Christian may consider cremation better stewardship since it is an area of Christian freedom. Others may see an opportunity give to missions the money saved by cremation.
9. Land designated as a cemetary, grave yard or burial ground becomes “sacred” and unusable in perpetuity for any other use, including farming, grazing, housing, business or recreation. Some Christians may choose cremation as better stewardship of our limited land resources. Countries like Japan with dense population and extremely limited land mass have no room for burials and so it is against the law.
10. Cremation offers several options as to the cremated remains:
– keep them in an urn at home
– scatter them at a memory site
– bury them
– place them in a mausoleum
My Personal Preferences
My choices with my family members have varied with living family members having an equal say:
– My father is buried above ground in a lovely mausoleum crypt in a cemetary in Virginia.
– My 93-year-old mother has a place reserved in the mausoleum next to dad’s remains for her coffin.
– My unmarried disabled younger brother was cremated at the wishes of his mother, and the ashes sent from California to Virginia to be buried between mother and dad after mother dies.
While I have defended the right and some of the benefits of cremation, as for my wife and I, we plan to be buried in the small well-kept local cementary in one plot, our caskets on top of each other, whoever goes first is on the bottom! The cost is minimal. The location is beautiful, charming and meaningful to us. Unless our children and grandchildren leave the state, it will be an accessible memory site for them. Yes, my preference is burial!
(c) 2016 David Ward Miller