If you’ve ever been to a museum that houses mummies, you would see tombs painted with colorful images that show just how seriously ancient Egyptians took their burial practices. They were serious about the way they buried someone because they believed that the way in which someone was buried and the things they took with them in the grave would contribute to their existence in the afterlife.
The Body Matters
Christians believe that our bodies matter. After all, God didn’t simply leave us as disembodied souls—he gave us bodies and called them good (Gen. 1:26–31). Something about our bodies reflects God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). When Christ came to earth, he took on human flesh (John 1:14). And as Christians, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; we’re called to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
Some Christians are concerned that cremation devalues the body. But, burial in a casket doesn’t delay the body’s inevitable disintegration. Whether through traditional burial or cremation, we will all return to dust eventually (Gen. 3:19). Because of the Fall, our bodies will all die (1 Cor. 15:26). And the reality is, there are people who have had terrible accidents and whose bodies aren’t intact in the first place to be buried. There are martyrs who were burned at the stake. Cremation doesn’t affect the body in such a way that it is beyond the reach of God’s resurrecting power. Just as in cases of martyrdom, amputation, or the like, God can raise a body from the ashes.
Others worry that cremation follows the example of pagan religious traditions and departs from the history of the church. The problem with this concern is that there are also pagan rites associated with burial. This line of thinking doesn’t rule out cremation as a viable option, however, because Christians are not bound by the traditions of men, only by their consciences (1 Cor. 10:27–30). There is nothing inherently pagan or disrespectful about the method of cremation itself.
A Matter of Conscience
The reality is, the Bible doesn’t give clear instruction regarding burials. This is an area of Christian freedom. It’s a matter of personal preference, according to conscience. If you feel that you’re dishonoring the body by cremation, don’t do it, because “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). But if you believe that you’re simply burying the body in the form of ashes, then you have the Christian freedom to make that choice.
A Certain Resurrection
We’re not saved by the method we use in burial but by the promise that God gives in his gospel: All who trust in Jesus Christ, though they died, will be raised and live forever. The question is, do you belong to the one who was buried and rose again? Do you belong to Jesus? If you do, you are not subject to condemnation for how you are buried or for anything else (Rom. 8:1, 33–34). Though your body will return to dust, God promises that he will raise that dust to life, resurrecting our bodies by his power to be like Christ’s glorious, resurrected body:
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is 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. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:42–49)
What Does the Bible Say?
- Christian liberty and conscience: 1 Cor. 10:23–33; Rom. 14:23; Col. 2:16–23
- Burial, death, and resurrection: Ezek. 37:1–14; 1 Cor. 15:42–49; Rom. 8:1, 33–34
- The body: Gen. 3:19; Job 10:91; Eccl. 3:20; John 1:14; Cor. 6:19–20
- We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven by Charles Spurgeon and Randy Alcorn
- Heaven by Randy Alcorn