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February 21, 2007

To cremate or not to cremate?

In the latest edition of Touchstone, Russell Moore has written an article called "Grave Signs" that deals with the touchy issue of whether Christians should be cremated.  It made me recall an incident in my Sunday School class just a few weeks ago. We had been asked to donate funds to help a poor family bury their mother. When our parish nurse pointed out that cremation is much less expensive, the woman who was making the request visibly blanched. Then she stiffly snapped, "Some people have a problem with that!" My family has discussed our burial wishes: my parents and I plan to be cremated, but my husband prefers to be buried. So, out of curiosity, what do our readers think?

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Robert Quiring

One comment I remember from my grandmother is that for her generation, cremation was a practice associated with atheism as a final sneer at the God who wasn't there-- that if he was, he would have extra work in making any sort of resurrection happen. From my grandmother's point of view, Christian were buried as a statement of hope in the resurrection. I realize that the power of the resurrection transcends our human imaginations, but for my grandmother cremation and atheism went hand in hand.


Historically, Christians and Jews have always been buried as a sign of hope in the bodily resurrection. Only pagans cremated. And this was seen as an important sign to the pagans. Abandoning that now after all of these centuries seems unwise.


I also wonder what Christians think of the Egyption-type mummification we use today?

Diane Singer

My own experience with his topic is that people often react to cremation based on prejudices and misinformation, not facts. There's no definitive correlation between cremation and paganism, nor between burial and Judaism / Christianity. As Michael reminds us, the Egyptians mummified their rulers because they believed in an afterlife -- and they were 'pagans.' My preference for being cremated does not in any way negate my absolute belief in the resurrection I will experience because I have trusted in Jesus Christ as my savior. God is more than capable of reforming my scattered atoms -- just as He will for those who were vaporized in the Twin Towers on 9/11, or for someone who has (to loosely paraphrase Shakespeare in Hamlet) passed through the guts of a worm!

BTW, Michael, I find the whole business of unearthing mummies and putting them on display in a museum disrespectful. While I can rationally tell myself it makes no difference to the person who is dead, it still strikes me as ghoulish -- not sinful, just creepy.

Gina Dalfonzo

I never used to like the idea of cremation, until I read Tim Downs's not-for-the-faint-of-heart novel "Shoo Fly Pie." As one of its lead characters is a forensic entomologist, the book gets rather detailed about what happens to the body after death. All of a sudden cremation didn't look so bad anymore.

AJ Summers

So, what does the Bible say about cremation and how can it be applied in relevance to today?

Ornery's Wife

I have always wanted to donate my body to science and be cremated, at least as long as I can remember. I think my first visit to a cemetery where people put flowers then left them to die on graves of lost loved ones made me think I never wanted to impose that responsibility on those I left behind. Worse, I hated the idea of being closed up in a box, whether dead or alive. That is the stuff of nightmares for me!

Additionally, no matter what the form of "disposal" for my remains, the God who formed me from two single cells will have no difficulty re-forming me upon my resurrection.

I can fully respect those who choose to be buried, just as I respect those who choose to be cremated. I would hate to be judged by my fellow Christians as a pagan just because I didn't want to be mummified and placed in a cement tomb.

I haven't really researched in the Scriptures for whether or not this is a permissible choice, but I don't think it will hinder my ascension. Just my opinion.

M E Means

Chuck's BreakPoint column today dealt with cremation. I hope he also addresses that there are many solid Christians that prefer cremation over burial. The cost and materialism that goes into today's funerals can't be any worse than the paganism that used to be associated with cremation. While my desire is for cremation, I do want a proper funeral service in a church that proclaims the truth of the Gospel, Christ's death AND resurrection.

yvonne swain

I grew up in a heavily Roman Catholic area. AS kids, few of us really knew why we believed what we believed except it was what we were told. In my childhood, ONLY Protestants (we didn't have any pagans in small town, midwest that would admit to being so) could be cremeated becasue the Catholic Church (or maybe local parish)forbade it. The reasoning I heard from my friends parents at the time, was that although God could raise parts and pieces and reassemble them in the ressurection process, it was our job to take care of our bodies. In death, it was the function of our loved ones to take over that role when we no longer could. This was part of the basis of the fear of dying 'alone'. If the body was not intact, my friends reasoned, the ressurected body would perpetrate that insufficiency for all eternity. If a person had an appendage amputated, they would lack that part forever. In my experience this was taken to an extreme; when my mother, who lost her hair due to chemotherapy, was buried the undertaker (a staunch Catholic) included real human hair in her coffin so she would not be bald for all eternity!

I view cremation as part of my freedom in Christ. He is able and willing to reassemble all the parts of me no matter where they are and in my resurrected body, I will be recognizable by those who have known me on earth. The parts are a shell, no longer needed; there is no descreation so great Christ can't overcome it. Cremation, burial or use in a medical lab after death, Christ is still in control and able to resurrect the body.

Collin Roberts

I am a Christian of over 35 years and an undertaker for the same amount of time. I have never personaly cared for cremation, but funerals have gotten so expensive, some people cannot afford a traditional funeral. I encourage people to plan ahead for their final wishes, thus easing the financial burden on the survivors.


right on!

You phrase it very well- our hope is there, in Christ, and no matter how we may die, he can bring us together again!

It makes me wonder... I've read (never spoken face-to-face) with Christians that stand very firmly against organ donation, because it takes apart the body "mocking God by saying he can't put us back together." Is this the same argument as those who believe cremation is sinful? Because it makes sense to me that if cremation is sinful, for the same reasons, perhaps, organ donation after death (not just one kidney, but all your organs) could be viewed as sinful.

Is there anyone here that holds this view that can set me straight?


"God is more than capable of reforming my scattered atoms" Absolutely he is, or indeed just creating new atoms.

This is probably creepy to think about but there are probably a lot of atoms in your body right now that used to make up parts of other people's bodies. Probably even some believers' bodies, what a conundrum this must be for God ;) I wonder who will get those atoms?

The truth is the specific atoms in your body don't make you you. They're just matter. If God can bring forth children for Abraham from stones certainly he can (and will) make NEW bodies for us at the resurrection.

1st Corinthians 15:37-38; 42-44
When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.

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.

For more perspective read 1st Corinthians 15:19-54 It sure seems to me like the resurrected body is a new body, not this animated dirt we're wearing now. If this is right (and what's Paul doing writing this if it's not) then I'd say that cremation, mummification, purification, liquification, vaporization, or even petrification of your body does not matter to God. Glorify God with your body while it has life and don't worry about what happens to it after it doesn't.



It's true our bodies will be 'new'- they will be imperishable, incorruptable, absolutely! But also remember Job, who says "With these very eyes I will see God." In the Hebrew, translated really literally, it says, "These here very eyeballs."

So, I'd argue it is the same body, totally new and improved.

But in the end, I totally agree with the last paragraph you wrote. It don't matter to God, he'll sort it all out, and I trust him to do it right.

Hey, I'd say he's got a pretty good track record thus far of getting things right, true?

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