Question Time – Is it wrong for a Christian to be cremated?

QUESTION

Is it wrong for a Christian to be cremated?

ANSWER

Before answering this question it has to be recognized that some Christians do not have any choice as to what happens to the body of a deceased loved one. This magazine is distributed to over one hundred countries and it is probable that in some of these places it is mandatory to cremate all deceased persons. Even in those lands where there is freedom to make a choice, the wishes of believers may be overruled by family members who do not share the same convictions. Therefore, it is with compassion and sensitivity I offer the following response to the question above.

The scriptures guide us in a number of ways, by direct precepts, by principles, and by particular practices. In relation to the issue of cremation, I am not aware of any specific scriptures that make a direct prohibition against this procedure; however, there is much guidance by way of principle and practice that causes me to believe that if we can make a choice then we should choose to bury our departed relatives.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all buried by their sons, and, at his death, Joseph was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt. Eventually, the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel carried throughout their wilderness journey, were buried in the Promised Land as he had requested. When Moses died he was buried by God in a valley in the land of Moab, and when his successor Joshua died he was buried by the people in the border of his inheritance, in Timnath-heres. Samson was buried by his brothers; Samuel was buried by the Israelites in Ramah; David was buried in Bethlehem, and so was his son Solomon. Thus, whether we think of the patriarchs, the judges, or the kings, those who served God and honoured him were all buried, none were cremated.

Moving to the New Testament we read of the deaths of John the Baptist, of Lazarus, of the widow of Nain’s son, and of Stephen. In the case of the son of the widow he was en route to the cemetery, but the others were all buried. In fact, we do not read of any Christian being cremated in the scriptures, even though the burning of dead bodies had been practised by the heathen for centuries. Digressing just slightly, there is a lovely expression used by Matthew as he describes the burial of John, ‘And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus’, Matt. 14. 12.

With reverence we can contemplate the care and love that motivated Nicodemus and Joseph to retrieve the body of our Lord from the cross. Having removed the nails they gently embalm that sacred ‘temple’ in a hundred pounds weight of spices, and wrap it in a clean linen cloth, and then lay it in a new tomb, thereby fulfilling what had been written seven hundred years before by Isaiah that he would be with the rich in his death. Some years later, Paul declares to the Corinthians that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried’, 1 Cor. 15. 3-4. Further, in the same chapter, the apostle refers to the condition of the body of believers who have died, and in verses 42 to 44 he repeats a phrase four times to describe their burial stating, ‘it is sown’, not once does he state that ‘it is burned’.

Uniquely, in creation man was made in the image and likeness of God, and these bodies of ours have been purchased by Him through the death of His Son; hence, Paul states, we are not our own. God has a personal interest in our bodies, and He will ensure that one day they will be changed. Cremation will not prevent God from implementing that change; after all, the first man was made from dust, but, based on numerous practices and the principles contained in the word of God, it is my mind that burial should be the choice for believers. However, let us rejoice in the knowledge that a cemetery is but a ‘resting place’; it is not a permanent abode. We lay our loved ones to rest in the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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