2 Sides of a Round Ball: To Bury or Burn

You are going to die.

And, so am I.  And, I’m okay with that.  The reason is…well, read the Scriptures.  Look what’s waiting for those who hope in the Lord.  That gets me kind of excited.

Use to be, I was scared of dying.  First, it was the how…drowning, flying, car accident, cancer?  Then, it was the when…I didn’t want to die when I was younger.  I had too much to do, too much to see, too much to experience.  I liked living on earth.

Yet, as I have moved from a ‘works’ theology to a ‘grace’ theology, I have realized that there’s nothing on this earth that I can do to earn my way into heaven.  It’s grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone.  So, right now, I live with the joy and hope of knowing that I will be in the presence of God.  And, it is the joy of knowing that has enabled me to live a life honoring God as well as sharing the gospel with others.

I’ve also grown in my knowledge of Scripture, thanks to my pastor, Mike Lee.  He has taught me what Scripture says about heaven and the New Heaven and New Earth.  He looks forward to it, and he’s taught me to do the same. He has lived the exemplar life of someone who is comfortable with death and dying.

My Last Will and Testament

A few years ago, Michelle and I sat down together and created our Last Will and Testament.   We were about to travel to Belgium for a mission trip, and we needed to make sure our affairs were in order.

So many details, so much to think through.  It’s an exercise that brings you face to face with your mortality, and it heightens your awareness of…forever.  Eternity.

Toward the end of the document, we came to the details regarding our funeral.  How do we want that handled?  Specifically, do we want burial or cremation?

On One Side of the Ball

Burial is the usual, orthodox way to celebrate, or mourn, the loss of life.  It’s what we do, and, if you’re like me, it’s what you expect.

Problem is, I’m not crazy about funerals and, specifically, funeral homes.  The funeral home is the last place in this world that I want to be displayed or thought of.  The gilded fixtures, the shaded, pink hues, the whispers, the expectation for sadness and crying, the ornate coffin lined with velvet.  That’s not the way to remember me.

On the Other Side of the Ball

Cremation is becoming more and more accepted as the way to handle the dead.  It is estimated that, by 2025, over half of the interments in the U.S. will be by cremation.  Reasons for consideration would be expense, the environment, and ease of arrangement for the remaining family, among others.

There’s a problem, though.  Is cremation the Christian thing to do?

Some will advocate burial for several reasons:

1.     The dignity of the body.  Burial is a more respectful way of treating the physical aspect of a person…the body that God created.  Even more, if we are created imago Dei, in the image of God, then we must respect that in a proper Christian burial.  After all, if God created the body, who are we to destroy it?

2.     We look forward to a bodily resurrection.  As Christians, scripture tells us that, when Christ comes again, our bodies will be resurrected.  The apostle Paul goes into great detail regarding the resurrection of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15.

3.     In the Bible, burial is norm.  In the case of death in the Bible, there are many, many examples of the dead being buried, the foremost of which is Jesus himself.

4.     Throughout church history, Christians have buried their dead.  So distinctive is this that scholars can trace the spread of Christianity throughout the world because Christians buried their dead in an east-west fashion.  Pagan societies did not bury their dead…they burned them.

Still, others may advocate cremation.  In addition to the reasons given above for cremation, there are several points to consider:

1.     While the Bible gives example after example of the burial of the dead, it does not forbid cremation.  There are three examples in Scripture of the dead being burned, but these are not conclusive enough to determine proper practice.  If we were to apply the Regulative Principle to the dead body (in the same way we apply the principle to worship), we must say that Scripture regulates what we do.  In that case, we do only what Scripture says we can do.  However, if we apply the Normative Principle to the treatment of the dead body, we can say that we can do anything unless it is forbidden by Scripture.

2.     Christians must be sola scriptura in their approach to this.  While history can be our guide, we cannot base doctrine or theology on tradition or common practice, or, worse yet, individual preference.  We must follow Scripture, the very Word of God, not ecclesiastical practice.

3.    God is all-powerful.  The Bible tells us:

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2:7 ESV)

and this:

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22 ESV)

For those who have been cremated, I don’t think the Creator-God will have a problem with their resurrection bodies.  Or, for that matter, martyrs burned at the stake or torn limb from limb in the Colisseum, or someone who has drowned and been given over to the deep, or a believer who perished in the World Trade Center on September 11, or a believer still missing in action from war.

Make the Decision for Yourself

There is much in the way of scholarly, Christian writing regarding cremation.  Much of what I have stated has come from that.  To read for yourself, here’s an article by David W. Jones in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.  Russell Moore discusses the issue in “The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn”.  And, finally, Richard Mouw discusses it in his article, “Toward a Theology of Cremation.”

What I Want

I want to be cremated.  Here’s why:

1.     It’s less expensive.  I don’t want the expense of a funeral to be my lasting legacy to my family.

2.     We all need to start thinking about this world and the environment.  Don’t use up precious earth so that someone can put a head stone on it.

3.     Funeral homes are a negative experience.  I think much of what goes on in a funeral home is designed for the living who remain.  I disagree with much of what happens at a funeral home, so I’ll stop short of exposing my thoughts on that.

4.     I want my memorial service to be a joy.  Meet at the church.  Remember me well.  Laugh at me.  Tell stories.  Remember the good things that we did together.  Sing some jumpin’ songs.  Preach the gospel.  No crying…no dirges…no casket.  And, then, go to my house and eat some BBQ.  I’ll make sure my family takes a little bit of the money I saved from using the funeral home, and they’ll throw a party.  Stay late, and tell more stories.

Why?

Because I’m in the presence of the Almighty God, singing perfectly, worshipping continually, feeling great, and loving every eternal minute of it.  I’m gone from this sinful, painful earth.

And, one day, Christ will return and call forth my physical body as He establishes His Kingdom in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

What a day, glorious day that will be!

6 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Theology

6 responses to “2 Sides of a Round Ball: To Bury or Burn

  1. Amen, and I agree.
    But mine includes flip-flops and a buffet of all the things I can’t eat now. 😉

  2. Amen!! It’s time Christians start getting that death is to be celebrated simply because we will be in the glorious presence of Our Lord!! The next best thing to sharing that with loved ones is having them do their own celebrating of a life of hope! God never intended for our bodies to be a shrine but a vessel to carry the Gospel to others. It’s time we all rethink the ‘bury or burn’ debate…then make our own decision instead of allowing history to repeat itself just for the sake of history repeating itself. Good Stuff!!!

  3. Jan Hubbard

    I think, like you, that since God made Adam from dust; He is truely able to make my resurection body. God can do anything. I haven’t read your references yet, but plan to do so.

  4. Dave Hubbard

    AMEN (redundent) to all of the above! I am a man of few words!!

  5. jessica riley

    Well Dr Moore surely won’t tweet about your blog now! Haha!

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