They say that nothing is sure in this world, except death and taxes. Well, currently, I am starting my taxes, so naturally my mind drifts to death. I hope that I do not die from the pain of taxes. I do not know anyone who has, but there is always a first. Just in case, I should make sure everything is in order, if only as an excuse to delay my taxes.
I invite you to join me in this.
Funeral planning should be like voting in Chicago. Early and often. We never know when the unfortunate event is going to happen, so, for the sake of our loved ones, we should have our will and our funeral plans up to date. This way, they can grieve without the pressure of hurried planning.
There are many things to consider as one plans his funeral. The big decision is what one wants done with his body: cremation or burial. Cremation is gaining popularity in recent years because it cuts costs and saves room. But, there is still some controversy around it. Many Christians are uncomfortable with this act. Some go so far as to insist that it is unbiblical, and could affect one’s eternal state, as in Heaven or Hell. Is this true?
Before I continue, I must establish some common ground. Whether one is cremated or buried, one’s body is just a body that will turn to dust either way.
So, with that said, what does the Bible say about cremation?
Frankly, not much.
Starting with the Old Testament and the Law, God did not give any commandments about correct burial. However, he did give burning as punishment for sexual sin, as found in Leviticus 20:14; 21:9. Those who committed certain sexual sins, such as prostitution and marrying both a mother and a daughter were to be burned alive. Not the most pleasant of punishments, and not really applicable to our discussion of cremation.
In the story of Israel coming into the Promised Land, we have the first mention of cremation. As Israel conquered the land of Canaan, certain cities, like Jericho, were to be totally destroyed. The Israelites were not to keep any souvenir. If anyone did keep something, the item kept and the body of the keeper were to be burned, both as a punishment and as a symbol of purifying the nation of Israel of the sin. Fire is a frequently used physical symbol for purification. When God commanded this, I am sure that no one wanted this punishment to actually happen. However, a man named Achan got greedy and kept some of the treasure of Jericho for himself. He was consequently stoned to death and his body was burned.
In 1 Samuel 31, the men of Jabesh-Gilead took the bones of Saul and his sons and burned them. They probably did this to protect Saul’s body from being desecrated by the Philitines. In 2 Kings 23, Josiah burned human bones on the high place altars to desecrate them and ensure that no worship would be done on them again. In Amos 6, people in a city under siege would be burning the bodies of the dead, a normal practice to stop the spread of disease in a close area.
None of these passages condemn the practice of cremation, nor do they condemn the body of the one cremated to eternal punishment. In the instance of Achan, he was condemned before he was stoned. Cremation had no effect on his eternal state.
The only passage that might speak to God’s view on the practice of cremation is Amos 2:1. Moab was punished because they burned the body of Edom’s king. However, the Moabites did this during a raid into Edom. They opened up the graves of the royalty and burned the bodies. This was not a simple cremation. This was an act against the dignity of Edom and the dignity of those who had died. Moab was not punished because of cremation, but because of their slanderous act against the image of God.
That all said, the Israelites had very strong opinions about burial. They believed in the dignity of the body. This is seen in how they would carefully bury all the dead that they could, either in above-ground tombs, or in deep graves. Why? Because each body should be treated with respect as the image of God, because they wanted the bodies to rest peacefully with their fathers, and because one day each body would be resurrected.
The early Christians, being converted Jews, carried this practice with them. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes that our bodies are the temple of God. Many people point to this verse as proof for burial being the “Christian way”. We should treat the body with respect, right? However, Paul’s context is sexual sin. Be careful of how you unite physically with sin, for God dwells in you. This verse does not refer to a dead body. Does God dwell in the dead?
The Bottom Line
What happens to a dead body? Well, as I began this discussion, whether a body is burned or buried, or any other method of disposing, the body ultimately decomposes and turns to dust, as God said in Genesis 3, “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” At death one’s spirit leaves the body, to be with God and await the resurrection, and the body decays. Why would God dwell in this dead body, if the spirit is with him, awaiting the resurrection?
This resurrection will be an amazing thing. All bodies, from all times, through all modes of death and decay, will be resurrected. The Bible is clear that no method of death or disposal will inhibit God from resurrecting each body. 1 Corinthians 15:42-43 states, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” Our physical body is perishable, and as such, will perish. However, when God raises our body, from whatever state of decay, he will transform it into a spiritual body which will not decay.
Revelation 20 refers to this glorious day of resurrection. “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done.” Each person, no matter how they died, no matter how their body decayed, will stand before the judgment seat of God. They will be judged according to their works. However, the reason they will enter Heaven or Hell is based upon whether their name is in the Book of Life, whether they trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. The reason for their death, the disposal of their body, does not matter in that day.
Have you trusted in Christ alone. If you are planning for a funeral, I hope you have. That is the most important preparation you can do for the end of life.
Well, I need to get back to my taxes. Happy funeral planning!
Pastor of Calvary Bible Church, Neligh, NE. Missionary with RHMA. Husband to Maggie. Father to Grace, David, and Daniel. Saved by Jesus Christ