Cremation? October 4, 2006

One of our readers has asked about cremation vs. burial. Tacitus, the Roman leader, once said that the Jews “bury rather than burn dead bodies” (Hist. 5.5). Not all have agreed with this ancient tradition, though. What do you think? Who has some thoughts about cremating vs. burying our loved ones? What do the pastors think?
Both the ancient Israelites and the early Christians avoided cremation — in part, no doubt, because it was a common pagan custom.

In Leviticus, for the body to be burned was an ultimate sanction and abomination (cf. Lev. 20:14; 21:9).
On the other hand, it must be admitted — and correct me if I’m wrong here medically/physically — that bodies decompose over time so that, however long it takes for a body to decompose, the cremated body and the buried body eventually end in (roughly) the same condition.
It must be admitted also that a major reason why both Israelites and Christians did not cremate was to distance themselves from paganism.
Environmental and economical issues can be factored into the decision made by individuals (who choose to be cremated) and familes.
If God can put back together the bodies of the decomposed by burial, he can do the same to the decomposed by cremation.
My friend, the Zarman, had this comment: “I lean toward putting me in the dirt; don’t burn me up.”

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  • BeckyR

    It takes up less space. Cremation. Our dad is in his favorite mountain lake. Mother in law was cremated, but has a headstone along with the rest of the deceased family. I want to be spread in the mts by a favorite stream, or where hubby is, if he dies before me. My mom is a genealogy nut. The value of headstones tie into genealogy searches. I have been dragged to so many cemeteries across the US with my mom. But she got her genealogy information. Who knows if our new bodies will resemble what we’re walking around in now?

  • I really don’t see any harm in cremation. Though I have thought that the emphasis on our bodies as being a part of the real us- an apt description, I believe of the Biblical, Hebrew understanding of humanity, for me renders the normal burial as emphasizing that respect. As we say goodbye to the person through the viewing or carrying of the body to burial. It’s not that the real person is gone and what remains is nothing more than a shell. But that’s part of the real human, who is to be resurrected in Christ.
    But, having said that, I still don’t see cremation as being actually forbidden for us today. And see it as not necessarily putting down the body at all.

  • I think the concept offen uttered at funerals “from dust to dust” is important in how we view what is does with our earthly bodies, they are when all said and done just dirt that God breathed life into, and the pagan issue not being one that is relevant today, you could conclude therefore there is no spiritual connotation to burial vs cremation. All that withstanding I think Id still quite like to be buried!

  • Norton

    I just don’t see any theological problems with cremation, and if that’s true, then economics is a big factor for me. Cremation is typically significantly cheaper (sometimes thousands of dollars). Wouldn’t those who are alive, and truly in need (the poor), be much better recipients of that money than my dead, decomposing body that doesn’t even house my spirit any longer?

  • My father wanted to leave some money to my mother when he died. He asked for cremation because it was the cheapest way. I am sure he knew that his essence would be in heaven…

  • Norton,
    I asked this question and then checked out a site or two — cremation is cheaper, and I suppose the numbers vary significantly by location, etc.. But, it is cheaper.
    Do the pastors run into this problem very often? I know I’ve not been to a cremation funeral.

  • Bob

    This is probably off-topic but I know I plan to donate as much usable tissue as possible upon my death. A friend and neighbor of mine died earlier this year and had to be cremated because there was so little left after the donation process.
    It inspired me to do the same. I would hope others would consider it as well.

  • hal

    What of death by fire or other all consuming death? This would certainly leave the physical body in the same condition as cremation.

  • Here in the UK, cremations to burials are now at 12:1, largely for economic reasons. But then people often want to have their loved ones’ ashes interred in a graveyard – I presided over such an interment this morning.
    A few years ago I conducted a crematorium funeral at which (as stated in the deceased’s will) we played the song “goodness gracious great balls of fire” over the sound system as the crutain closed.

  • What a nice thought for the morning.
    Cremation , from a pastoral perspective offers greater flexibility in scheduling because there is no biological sense of urgency. I have done more than few cremations and they (funeral homes) offer the visitation in a “rental” casket, and then they deal with the physical remains. It gives the families an opportunity to have the commital in the spring if death occurs in winter or when the family can gather again. If the remains have to be transported it is much cheaper to transport ashes.
    Well time for breakfast.

  • Brian

    Here are a couple sites with cremation information.
    The Wikipedia article explains the actual process. Much of the body mass is actually lost.
    The idea of God putting bodies back together reflects the resurrection language, but it seems odd at the molecular level. Molecules are always passing in and out of the body and passed from one organism to another. From that standpoint it isn’t clear what God would be putting back together. After enough time there isn’t much left. I wonder what MJ Harris would say about this given his views on the resurrection of Jesus?

  • The Scriptures say BeckyR that we will recognize each other in heaven. Jesus’ own body was raised from the dead not just his spirit according to Scripture. Read Jesus’ words in John 5:28-29, 6:39-40, 11:25-26, and Luke 14:14. Also see Paul in 1 Cor 15:12. So according to Scripture, yes it will be the same-but glorified-body if you believe-as I do-in a literal translation of Resurrection of the Body as is said in the Apostles Creed and spoken by Jesus and Paul.
    On an interesting note most Conservative and Orthodox Jews do not even embalm the body for many reasons including the blood being the location of life ergo you must keep it with the body.

  • Also I think it is evident in the works of Scripture and the writings of the early church fathers that they believed in a literal ressurection of the body from the grave. However since God is all-powerful and able to do what is his will outside of our own concepts the cremation vs. burial argument is a matter of argument only among us for recreational purposes. However I do know many churches where cremation is verboten.
    As far as cost I know several funeral homes that will do a funeral pro bono if the family is unable to afford it. Though this is only true of funeral homes that understand their Christian calling and do not run it purely for business.

  • George

    Residents of the desert (e.g. Red Rocks of Sedona) usually opt for cremation. When you are in the desert, planting grass or people in God’s good earth are equally difficult.

  • Pastor Dana sees the point as a non issue; but is willing to believe, not everybody sees it that way. Just as God inbreathed us as living souls, and we don’t know when that occured, there is a mystery to the Almighty which we have to honor; so- He’s capable it seems evident, to reassemble them bones? Certainly He is capable to bring the resurrection body back again as well? Have not done a cremation funeral yet…have done a funeral for one who was believed to be lost, as I’m sure others have…

  • Come on, folks. The early Christians knew as well as you and I do that bodies rot and decompose over time – this is not a discovery of modern science. They also observed their brothers in Christ being burned at the stake in the arena. Augustine himself said on record that they need not worry about God being able to reassemble a person’s body for the resurrection even if his ashes had been scattered into the air.
    The problem is that we can communicate with things other than words. Symbols are extremely powerful, and reflect deeply about ourselves and what we believe. It has been stated that Christians didn’t do this to distance themselves from Paganism. But they adopted many pagan practices insofar as they were innocent and helpful (wearing stoles, eating pork). It had to be more than just “it’s pagan so it’s bad.”
    Cremation symbolizes a lot of things that we Christians do not believe, and burial symbolizes a hope that we do cling to. Cremation is a destructive act symbolizes the annihilation of the person as an individual unit, and a merging with the great wide world. Burial is a passive act that accepts the corruption of nature, but hopes that one day resurrection will occur. In one practice you actively (and violently – grinding up the bones) destroy the body, in the other you passively submit it to the corruption that is bound to happen.
    Now, full disclosure here, my father in law died a couple months ago, and he wanted to be cremated. We respected his wishes, and I understand his reasons (not wanting his family ripped off by the corrupt funeral establishment, etc…though he was a rich man). I love him, and obviously don’t think it will cost him eternity or anything silly like that. But I do think it was the wrong choice.
    I think the Christian acceptance of Cremation is a symptom of a much bigger problem. Imagine that Jesus’ disciples had cremated him, scattering his ashes where he used to live. They could then rest knowing that his spirit was with God in heaven, and that they had the Holy Spirit in them. I really don’t see the practical difference that would take place if many Evangelicals believed this – they have such a neo-platonic semi-gnostic anti-creational worldview anyway. But it should make all the difference in the world if you believe in a bodily resurrection – that means that our created reality now has a future!
    I’ve blogged before about the burial of Sarah. Abraham, knew that her body and his would decay. But he bought a plot of land in Canaan and buried her there, as a symbolic act of faith in the God who one day would give the entire land to his offspring. We need to think long and hard about why we do what we do.

  • T

    I am an estate planning attorney, and I’m frequently in the position of offering this choice to people. Thanks for raising the question. It’s gotten me thinking about my own decision in this regard. Where does this decision fit into our theology of our bodies? Of the resurrection? The partriarchs where pretty emphatic about where their bones ended up. Was that tied to an expectation that I could/should share? What about God’s use of our bodies, for now, as God’s temple? This could sound odd, but I find myself questioning my right to cremate the body I don’t own, that has God as it’s primary reason-for-being.
    I will say this too: My once firm decision in favor of cremation was rooted, for me, in my theology about what was going to happen to this whole world–up in smoke. Now that the theology has changed via N.T. Wright, I’m really second guessing my decision to just “torch it” when I go. Again, I’m just sharing the questions that I have and why.

  • T

    I echo some of Oyarsa’s thoughts (#16), and I do wonder how much of our current practice of cremation and other body-dismissive behaviors is due to that common gnostic/evangelical theology about our lives after death and the (non)bodily nature of it. It was that way for me.

  • paul

    personally i think this is not a big deal at all. if God can raise a body burned at the stake back from the dead (and ressurect the body…however that works) then he can do the same for cremation. As for #16, this is all based around the idea that cremation and burial stand for something. Our culture today is one in which personal opinion and lack of absolute standards reign. In our culture, cremation may have stood for something years and years ago, but today it simply has lost that meaning for many.
    I never grew up in an environment where cremation or burial stood for anything other than a simple option, up to the person who was dying. The hope for the future was never found in the body in the ground (or ashes), but in the risen savior himself

  • Don

    Dear Scot; after 26 years of conducting many funerals, I definitely lean towards cremation. It consumes so much less of the environment, is cheaper, and just plain makes sense. I know where I’m really going to be, let go of the old shell, toss the ashes on the compost (or Lake Michigan) and move on.

  • Don,
    Tons of interesting comments to me today, and I really value these pastor comments as they deal with funeral so often.
    What percent of funerals that you do are cremations?

  • Paul, I think Don has proved my point. Our symbols really do mean things.

  • I personally don’t think it matters one iota to God – and that’s what’s important to me. If cremation was a HUGE distinguishing characteristic in America between Christians and non Christians then I would say that Christians should probably bury but to make a “law” out of this issue is putting an undue burden on people. Can you imagine the guilt of a poor person whose loved one is burned beyond recognition or has some kind of biological contaminant and has to be cremated. I loathe when the church puts that kind of burden on others. It’s not right. So I think, as a Church, we need to just let people prayerfully decide on their own and not create a new law.

  • BW

    As a pastor, 15-20% of the funerals I conduct are for those who wish to be cremated. Some are cremated after the funeral so a viewing of the body can still take place.
    In my experience, people request cremation for two main reasons: 1) family tradition. I’ve heard it said many times, “Grandma was cremated, so was Grandpa.” This isn’t too hard to understand. 2) So that the deceased will remain “close” to the living. This is especially signficant for those who pass away unexpectantly. Last year, I conducted a funeral for a congregant who died at age 39. He left a wife and two twin girls (age 8). It was incredibly important to the family that he be cremated so that his ashes could remain with them. They even bought necklaces where there was a spot for his ashes.
    There’s one more issue concerning this that is important. The emotions are so strong at these moments that, as a pastor, almost your exclusive desire is to comfort the family. The very last thing you do at that moment is to give theological arguments for burial rather than cremation. As much as I love what is symbolized in laying to rest the dead in hope for resurrection, I can’t imagine trying to persuade people in that direction at that time. They aren’t prepared to deal with that. In fact, what if they regret taking your advice? They have you to blame. That’s not a good place for a pastor to be.

  • Many of our burial rites are not based in our Christian faith. Visitation, viewing or waking a person (something I have always wanted to see) is not based in faith. How we buried in vaults or the markers used is not based in faith. There is nothing particularly Christian in paying $8000 plus for the services provided by the funeral home. Trying read cremation or bruial as more in line with scripture is frankly a stretch.

  • Makeesha (#23),
    But the entire point is that it isn’t a “new” law. It was the practice of the earliest Christians with little exception through today. The “new” thing is the revival of a pagan practice. If the practice is innocent and helpful, then OK. But if not, we should be wary of what symbolic assumptions we implicitly make.
    Surely the things we say are important to God – they form who we are. This includes what we say with words and with symbols. It doesn’t make someone a bad Christian if they aren’t perfectly consistant here, and I absolutely agree with BW (#24) that prudence should govern how pastors advise people. But what I am saying is that being consistant with what we say we believe is something we should strive for as Christians.
    And I do think it is troubling when we adopt symbolic practices that imply we believe something we shouldn’t. Take Don’s comment about the “old shell” (#20). Is that how Abraham would talk of Sarah’s body? Is that how Jacob talked to Joseph? Did the Women at the tomb say “they have taken away my Lord’s old shell?” There are some subtle assumptions we have bought into that, upon reflection, are a little too Gnostic for my taste.

  • Well said Wonders. Jesus’s actual body was ressurected not his soul. We use neo-Platonic categories for body and soul that I believe are not found in scripture. We do not have two-natures, soul and body, but one nature that is human.

  • But we’re going to be bodily resurrected no matter the condition of our body, correct? Whether our body rots, burns, is dismembered, or disinegrates in acid, it matters not to the resurrection power of our Lord.
    I agree that symbols and rituals are important but to say that there is scriptural grounds to forbid cremation or even put it in a negative light is, as someone said above, a stretch.
    I respect someone’s strong feelings on the matter but I would ask that those strong feelings remain with them and their own lives and not be pushed on others as new law.

  • It’s been expressed above, but a lot depends on what is being communicated with the act of cremation. We pray that we believe in the resurrection of the body and so the manner in which we care for the bodies of the deceased does say something about what we mean when we utter those words. For its part, the Catholic Church does permit cremation, but has specific guidelines for it, including when the cremation is to take place and that the ashes are to be buried or entombed, not scattered.

  • What do you mean by “law”? I’m not prosecuting anyone. I’m offering it as a suggestion to my fellow Christians on how to better embody what we believe in our lives. Should such conversation be forbidden?

  • manwe

    I can’t imagine members of the Orthodox Churches intentionally creamating bodies or even using the word “dead” or “died.” “Reposed” is the preferred term since it is their belief that in death we are asleep in the Lord and are awaiting the resurrection. No, not soul sleep, just using Paul’s terminology from 2 Thessalonians (?). I am not orthodox, but I think I might like their view of this issue, as I understand it.
    All that aside, cremation is often less devastating financially than burial. But then again, are not coffins often a tribute to the loved on who has received his or her eternal promotion?
    The comment about how cremation was less problematic evironmentally, is that at-risk of putting the creation above the creator? I anticipate a response about being good stewards of the creation by not dumping our dead bodies in it, but I see problems with that too.
    If I read Stan Grenz right, I would prefer to be buried at this point.

  • Like most of your respondents, I was ambivalent about cremation until I read an article by Rodney Decker ( Rodney is a professor of New Testament at the Baptist Bible Seminary in Pennsylvania and I greatly appreciated his approach to the topic. His article generated a great deal of food for thought among my family. Now I have come to the point that, all things being equal, I would encourage a person to be buried rather than cremated.

  • BeckyR

    If there’s consideration that cremation might be a gnostic influence, the other end, then, is embalming the body rather than putting it in the ground as is and letting decomp happen.

  • Hi Scot: Pastor Dana has 0% that are cremated, have never done a funeral where they were. Bear in mind sir we are in the south…so it might be a culture deal here not to be cremated? In New Orleans they bury above ground, which was pretty spooky during Katrina…here in the north of the state, we feel fortunate that the family doesn’t use the backyard. Sorry if the humors a bit dark…but hey, this is “redneck” country if ever there was one…

  • BeckyR

    The Bible doesn’t say God will resurrect our body if it’s not burned, if it only is buried intact. Per my previous comment, was there embalming when the NT was written? Bottom line, we return to the earth from which we came ala Job. And what God does with our body will be at various stages after what we do with our body. I don’t see it as gnostic, because putting a body in the ground is with the knowledge that it turns to dust at some point. Cremation has accelerated the process. It’s not like one is a body and one isn’t. We turn to dust after we die. Slowed down some by today’s embalming procedures.

  • I understand this, BeckyR, but I would argue that there is all the symbolic difference between cremation and burial as there is between suicide and martyrdom. Yes, the martyr knows that by holding to his faith he will die, and he grits his teeth and stays true anyway. But he doesn’t activly destroy his own life. Similarly, with burial we know that our bodies will see corruption a la the curse. We submit and bear it, with hope. But I don’t think we should activly destroy our own bodies.
    By the way, I agree that mummification is indeed the equal and opposite extreme.

  • Dana Ames

    Small historical note from someone whose parents were funeral directors:
    Modern embalming began during the Civil War -should that be the War Between the States, Pastor Dana? 🙂 -in response to the demand that soldiers’ bodies be returned to their home towns for burial. Since even by train this would take some number of days, and there was no refrigeration yet, embalming arose (pardon the pun) to fill the need for “closure” expressed in that demand.
    I shall never forget the difference in Mother Teresa’s unembalmed body between the time she died and her funeral a few days later.
    On with the conversation…

  • chad

    i’ve often wondered if there is a more “Jewish” way of looking at this question? can you help me here someone? as some have noted, we are far too influenced by Greek thought that separates souls and bodies, and while our physical bodies certainly matter, it seems inconsistent to suggest people shouldn’t be cremated or they might not be resurrected. is our God not able to put back together what he created from nothing in the first place?

  • Norton

    I have not actually presided at a funeral yet, but I have been with the family to the funeral home and helped them make decisions about arrangements. And, I’ve got to be honest, it’s a little weird spending between $1000 and $5000 picking out caskets knowing that it will be seen for one or two hours, then put into the ground. Again, to me it just seems like poor stewardship.

  • Wonders: of course it can be discussed, I never suggested otherwise. What I’m hearing you say is that scripture/God himself forbid or look down upon cremation. I don’t see that in scripture or the character of God in any way so to me, for a person to suggest that is creating a law of man and burdening others with it.

  • These are fine discussions to have here and now but when you are with a family at that point in time the issues are far more about comfort, care and their family traditions. Whether or not cremation is gnostic or that the symbolism of the burial is more meaningful has no place at that point. The decisions they have to make when they are burying their child or spouse are horrendous and whatever you can do to make it easier becomes the prime concern.
    Bring this up in a small group dscussion or Sunday School class and you will catch all sorts of the emotional process because of what they had to do for their mother, brother, friend, spouse.
    This issue is always charged with emotion. One time I was with a family at a small cemetary our in the country and they discvoered that the cemetary had moved the road and now they were driving over one of the graves of their family members. There was emotion erupting all over the place. The grave was moved that week, and at no cost.

  • Kent, I know you’re right on this. Have you ever talked publicly — say taught — anything on this?

  • Don Hendricks

    I serve in a large retirement community. My funerals are 80 percent cremations. Many seniors retire to Arizona and have no family plots. Many of those with ashes do bury them in burial gardens and cemeteries. The Bible promised that Jesus body would not see corruption, not that ours would not. I get more scared when I see people trying to preserve a body so Jesus will know where to find in on ressurection day. What about those buried as sea? This is an economic issue, and there is nothing less violent about a passive slow decomposition. The violence is the exorbitant ripoff taking place in the funeral industry upon people who cannot afford to die. Lets stop connecting cremation to paganism.
    Don H

  • Don,
    Thanks for your wisdom.

  • BeckyR

    Getting a bit off the main road here, but I’ve heard or read that our death rituals have more to do with us reconciling the reality of our mortality, which is brought up in us when a loved one dies. What we can do to find some comfort in the gap. Makes sense to me and is an idea I’m chewing on. So, to take that to the comments here today – our individual opinions about how to treat death and the body may have more to do with our own comfort about our own death which will be one day. I can’t say that death is something comfortable, for me. I might go, fighting every inch of the way.

  • Makeesha –
    I’m just trying to encourage us to strive for consistancy in the way we live our lives as Christians. To live as faithfully and true to our Lord and his promises as we are able should not be seen as a burden. Basically I have argued that burial is a more faithful way of symbolically speaking of our hope of resurrection than cremation. And of course, you may disagree. That’s fine – respond to my arguments or just say you aren’t convinced.
    We all want to honor and serve Christ. We all want to be faithful witnesses to the truth in his world. As iron sharpens iron, we need each other to help us see blind spots and ways that we can live out our calling even better. I don’t see what is wrong with this picture.

  • When our four-month-old son died three weeks ago, I didn’t have the time or inclination to sit down to do the exegetical, theological, and historical research which some would (apparently) require.
    Instead, my wife and I tried to do our best to make the wisest decision we could. When we sat down with our funeral director, I think I was equally inclined toward either cremation or burial. And I’m no hardcore environmentalist, but when we explored the latter option– with all of its polyurethane vessels, epoxy seals, and concrete vaults– I was a little repulsed. That element, combined with others, persuaded us toward cremation.
    I loved his body, and miss him desperately, and eagerly await the Resurrection. And I cringe when I consider the somewhat violent end met by his flesh. But decomposition is violent, as well (if more protracted), and at least as distasteful.

  • Mike,
    I decided to post about this because of a request, because I also was curious, and I realized when I did that I had readers who would not see such a topic as anything worthy of curiosity. I want to thank you for your story, for your heart, and we all want to share in your pain in order to lift what we can from you. May the peace of God anoint you and all you love — as we all await the resurrection.

  • Given that thousands of saints have been burned for the sake of Christ, I see no reason to worry or fret over being creamated.

  • Scot,
    As a pastor for over 25 years, I have had folks request both traditional burial and creamation. While I appreciate “Wonders” desire to honor the biblical examples as a precedent, I think this is a category for freedom of conscience. My wife’s, Julie’s, aunt and uncle were career missionaries in Japan were cremation is “normal.” In their identification with the Japanese people, they requested cremation as their burial choice. The “common sense” factors mentioned in the blog comments–bodies blown to bits in war, smashed in earthquakes, left to ocean depths, eaten by fish (and animals), to make a burial mandate is useless. The pastoral issues are loss of life and hope of resurrection of the body no matter the form of burial. Cremation is not pagan choice, but a simply human one.

  • I think, despite the wonderful personal examples, this discussion has been way too abstract and some of Wonders point has been lost. The pastoral issue is very much about me. What am “I” expressing if I say I want to be cremated. What am “I” saying about “my” belief regarding “my” body. About being the temple of the Holy Spirit. About hope in the resurrection of “me”.
    In the end, I don’t think anyone is condemning cremation. Or that one needs to inquisitorially ask these of the grieving. But these are questions we should be asking ourselves.

  • Mike: I am honored that you would bare yourself with your story. I thank you and I share in Scot’s prayer for you and your family.
    Wonders: I’m unpacking this issue just like you are my friend, please don’t get defensive. Just because I disagree with your assessment doesn’t mean I’m attempting to put a kabash on the discussion.
    The way I hear your argument, it sounds like there is condemnation or at least that you are suggesting that we should feel convicted against cremation. Regardless of your intent, that is how it is coming through to me.
    My argument is that I don’t believe that is the case. I do not think that I personally am sending any kind of message if I decide to be cremated (which by the way, I have not decided). I don’t think that I’m capitulating to any kind of pagan agenda and I don’t think that I’m mistreating my body or suggesting any kind of greek dualism. My body will require the miraculous and mysterious power of the resurrection whether it is burned or decayed and regardless of your position on bodily resurrection for humanity, when I am dead, I truly will not be concerned with the condition of my body. If anyone should be asked about this issue it should be my loved ones…for whatever is done after my death, is done primarily for their benefit.
    As a pastor, the message I’m sending when I teach on such topics is very important to me. I’m not sure if you’re a pastor or not, but I have found that the way I approach such issues tends to angle from that role. Am I sending a message that says there is a mandate from God on this issue? Am I sending a message that says I will see you differently if you choose one way or the other? or am I sending the accurate message that God, through his Word is not explicit on this point.
    Tradition maybe very clear, cultural norms may be very clear, but the question is, has God himself forbidden cremation for whatever reason. and does my choice conflict in any way with other commands of God? And my answer would be no, God himself has not been explicit on this issue and I can’t imagine that cremation is conflicting with other explicit commands. In which case, we as Spirit infused followers of Christ need to extend MUCH GRACE toward each person’s individual choices and we need to be cautious not to burden another with our own individual choice – no matter how empassioned we are about it.
    If anything dear one, I am cautioning you that in your zeal, you not cause another brother/sister to feel undue guilt or burden about this issue. Because love takes precidence, and if our message is not powered by love, we are clanging symbols.

  • i’ve only conducted about two dozen funerals in my tenure as a minister, but i would say 75% were by cremation and the overwhelming majority of those were financially driven decisions. “bw’s” comments are wise. with all due respect to the role of sumbolism, i actually think that what we say to God in such times is of very little importance compared with with God says to us; our responsibility as pastors is to help people cling to what God has said regarding the hope of resurrection. in the mids of most people i’ve dealt with the condition of the body has no bearing on the sincerety of their faith.
    it would seem that “wonders” concern is for what we are saying to others about God and about our faith by our symbolic choices. that’s all well and good, yet the meaning of language/symbols isn’t static. i don’t know a single person on the street who would connect the acts of either cremation or burial with the meaning wonders has assigned to them. so, if we have no audience who speaks this language then are we really “saying” anything at all by these acts other than making a statement about a family’s financial means or tradition?

  • jason – yes, my point exactly. sybolism isn’t statis is a very wise thing to keep in mind.

  • What am “I” saying about “my” belief regarding “my” body.About being the temple of the Holy Spirit. About hope in the resurrection of “me”.
    Jack, why would it matter? You’re going to be dust either way whether it be the posthumous burial of your body for slow decay into dust or the rapid action of an oven immediately following your death. Either way, you cannot deter the invetable. Furthermore, you have no real, full control over it anyway.
    Given your cryptic response, I have no idea if you’re insinuating along the lines of others who point to the patriachs being buried so that God can raise them again on the last day. But it’s just silly, since 1000-4000 years in the ground, without any embalming no less, pretty much guarantees that their physical state is wholly obliterated to trace elements at best. The spirit gives life the flesh counts for nothing. God will raise those dead in Christ for a new body, and does not need us to worry about perserving our remains or following some ritual or rite in order for him to execute his sovereign will.

  • Brad –
    Did you read my intial post (#16)? Reread the first paragraph. You are missing the point Jack and I are trying to make. It has nothing to do with the mechanics of resurrection. It has everything to do with what sort of symbolic statement you are making or what sort of implicit assumptions you are buying into.

  • It has everything to do with what sort of symbolic statement you are making…
    No, it doesn’t do anything of sort, because when you are dead, you’re not doing anything. That’s the whole point.
    But even from a symbolic standpoint, what message do you believe it sends. I believe there is nothing offensive or that can be tied to secular pagan practices whether one is buried or cremated. This issue is only an issue because so many make so much about this non-issue.

  • exactly Brad.
    If we were still living in a Christian culture that had strong pagan influences and speaking out against cremation would send a message of God’s love and would draw people to Christ, then MAYBE I could understand the zealotry. But to suggest that a grieving father who chooses to cremate his infant child is sending some kind of bad message or poorly representing Christianity just seems so wrong to me. It’s one thing to take a hard stand on the foundational truths of the Gospel regardless of people’s feelings or experiences but to be almost dismissive of the REAL pain of others because of legalistic zealotry that has no scriptural foundation…that bugs me

  • I also wanted to say that the concern over cremation seems almost superstitous to me.

  • Makeesha,
    but to be almost dismissive of the REAL pain of others because of legalistic zealotry that has no scriptural foundation…that bugs me
    Why are you saying things like this? Do you think I was dismissive of the pain of my wife’s family a month or so ago when her father died, out of my zealotry? I cried bitterly with them. We cremeated him, because that was his wish. I was at the front row of the memorial service and was comforted by the hope of the resurrection in the prayers of all of us who loved him.
    I was in the room when he died. Death sucks. It is horrible and ugly. Grieving is an emotionally draining time. I’m not dismissing any of this. Nor did I make a big scene about him being cremated, though it was known that my wife and I didn’t prefer it that way. We are going this weekend to support and grieve more with my mother-in-law. So please, stop saying things like that.
    As far as the grieving father, of course I’m not going to be a jerk and criticize him in the midst of his pain. But surely you don’t think that just because someone is in pain means that their choices are, by definition, the best ones! Even good godly people can make choices, which, upon reflection, may not have been the best possible choice. We can, by God’s grace, pursue truth with love and humility.

  • I marvel that you are getting offended and defensive about me doing something that I perceive you doing. You seem to be upset because I strongly disagree with you but then you are essentially saying that cremation is wrong and no thinking Christian should do it.
    I would ask why you’re saying that cremation is a bad choice. I still haven’t seen you say anything difinative from God through his Word. You haven’t responded to the point that there is no symbolism to cremation in our culture.
    You think that I’m being accusatory. For that I appologize. I’m not accusing you but I AM telling you what I hear from you. I *perceive* your comments as being insensitive, as putting burden on people where there need not be burden.
    You are clearly passionate that cremation is wrong. But I haven’t seen any substantial reasoning to support your beliefs. You certainly can have passionate opinions but when you imply that yours are the good Christian opinions, it sends a message to people that they are making a “less than Christian” choice when they choose cremation.
    I’m simply suggesting that you examine your approach and consider the possibility that you could be making someone feel guilty about a choice they made when there is no condemnation. God doesn’t judge people according to what happened to their body after death. So why is it such an important issue to you. I’m trying to understand but I keep hearing you say the same things and not really responding to the questions.

  • Jon B

    I think it is Tom Wright who observed that the final resurrection will more a new creation by God – as there probably won’t be enough ‘matter’ to go round all the bodies involved. Pragmatically, I must contain the same molecules as a wide range of other people, and I wouldn’t want to fight over that on the Last Day! This is surely a matter of personal choice, not theology?

  • jon – exactly my point.

  • A funny story,
    When I was a boy, at a large extended family dinner, my matriarchal grandmother made a bold declaration: “If you are cremated, you go to hell.” “Wow,” I thought. So I asked, “Grandma, what would happen if you were in heaven looking down on your body and the family that you left behind? What would Jesus say to you if the family, after your departure, decided to cremate you? Would Jesus say, ‘well, it was good having you here the last few days, but it looks like the family is going to cremate your remains, I’m sorry, but you have to go.’ I don’t think it works that way, grandma.”
    I still chuckle at my grandmother’s awkward silence following my boyish philosophical ponderings. We all went back to eating…

  • that’s awesome preston.
    wonders: I hope you don’t feel offended by my probing. I’m really just trying to push a little to get to the marrow of the issue. Sometimes, I find, traditional understanding or personal opinions can get in the way of real meaningful truth as it relates to our relationship to God and others.
    It helps me, when I’m passionate about something non salvific, to look into people’s eyes (if you will) and then into my heart and judge if I’m being gracious in my response and if it matters enough to bring hurt to another and/or to add legalistic burden to their relationship with God. What I’m trying to get to the heart of is if you believe with conviction that our position on cremation matters THAT MUCH. if it matters enough to potentially add legalistic burden and/or guilt and hurt
    I’m not asking if our position regarding our bodily resurrection matters. Or if how we represent ourselves as Christians matters or if our cultural capitulation matters(because i think the issues are getting a bit muddled in your argument) but does our position on CREMATION matter ENOUGH.
    I totally “get” passionate opinions. I’m horrible about disregarding what really matters so that I can step on others to reach my soapbox. So I’m not being blind to my own issues here.
    I apologize that I hurt your feelings or offended you. I hope that you hear where my heart is going on this issue.

  • Makeesha,
    I wonder if I can help you understand what bothered me. The thing is, I was arguing that burial is a more consistantly christian practice than cremation. Furthermore, I suggested that the acceptance of cremation on a cultural level points to some deeper problems with our theological understanding. That was all. I said nothing about trying to convince ordinary people to make a big deal out of this, or feel guilty about it, especially during times of grief. It was annoying to have the discussion taken from here to how compassionate and legalistic I personally may or may not be. This was only meant to be an intellectual discussion about the merits of a cultural practice. Does that make sense?
    How much does it matter? Hmmmm. I’m trying to think of a good analogy. How about this.
    I’d say its about on the level of praying to thank God before meals. I can imagine visiting a Christian who just didn’t take part in this practice. He might say “why should I think God for food more than I’m thankful for every other blessing he gives me? I don’t pray when I put on my socks.” OK, well, fair enough I suppose. But I might still think it a little strange – why, when Christians have done all this for so many years, take an active choice to change the practice? Especially since Jesus himself did it quite often.
    Now say I visited another Christian who also didn’t pray before meals. I ask him why he doesn’t, and he responds, “I earned this food with my own money. God didn’t give me the food – I did. God did give Jesus to die for my sins, and I thank him for that everyday, but why on earth should I thank him for something he didn’t do?” Here there is clearly a much bigger problem. This Christian’s misunderstanding of grace, providence, and the soverignty of God is most likely going to spill over into his entire outlook on life.
    So on the face of it, we realize that praying before meals is a good cultural practice that is probably superior to not praying before meals. Praying before meals reinforces the idea that God provides our very life to us, and reminds us (indirectly) about the great gift he give us in the body and blood of his son. Not doing this isn’t necessarily a big deal on an individual level, but it may be a symtom of a bigger cultural problem. Particularly since this has been the tradition, so it takes active steps to change it. What is the motivation for these active steps?
    Does this make sense? Cremation in and of itself may be a minor symbolic issue, but on a cultural level I think it points to a bigger problem.

  • For the record, I wasn’t intending to judge your personal compassion or judgementalism. I’m pretty sure I commented on what I was hearing from your words, not judging your chracter.
    And yes, I do understand – but at the same time, there really is nothing “purely academic” when you’re talking about Christianity. If it is, then frankly, it’s not worth our time. If it doesn’t translate into our relationship with God and/or others (including creation) then it’s meaningless idle chatter. So either you’re saying that it matters in practice or it doesn’t. And as I said, I’m a pastor, so pretty much everything is put through that filter.
    Let me break it down – if someone asked me “is it wrong not to pray before meals” I would probably say no, it’s not wrong, be led by the Spirit. If someone asked me “I want to be cremated, is that wrong” I would have to say no, it’s not wrong, be led by the Spirit.
    I can’t judge someone’s heart regarding either issue and it seems purely academic to discuss the issue in any other way but practically.

  • Even I might have to repackage the the statements rather than just answering yes/no to “is it wrong”. So much of the Christian life just isn’t that simple. What about some of these questions:
    Will not pryaing before meals help me grow as a Christian?
    Is it better to live in a society where people never pray before meals?
    Would it be wise for me as a father to have our family not pray before meals?
    Could my desire not to pray before meals be a symptom of a larger spiritual problem?
    Being led by the spirit often means asking these sorts of questions, and seeking the scriptures and wise counsel in answering them. Granted, we only have so much energy and hours in a day, and we can’t worry about everything all the time. And we can rest in God’s grace and mercy. But we also, as a community, should want to do all we can to become closer to God, more like Christ, and more faithful to him in our lives.
    Again, my big problem with Cremation is the larger cultural issue I believe it hints at: a neo-platonic worldview that leads us into bigger problems. Like the notion that it doesn’t matter if we pollute God’s good creation, since it’ll all burn anyway and only “spiritual” things matter.

  • I share you concern with dualism. I just don’t see how it applies in this situation. I DO think it matters how we treat our bodies, I just don’t think it matters whether we cremate or bury. I also do not agree that there are any kind of cultural perceptions regarding the issue – at least not here in America.

  • Fair enough. I think you at least understand where I’m coming from, and why I see this as important enough to make at least a little stink about, even if you aren’t convinced by my argument.