So, you had to have the conversation. You know the one where your spouse, parent, grandparent or even close friend tell you their wishes after their death. For example, I told my husband I don’t want to be buried, I want my ashes to be spread out over the ocean. It’s the one place on earth where I feel God most and holds meaning and memories. Yes … that conversation. And you’ve learned that person wants to be cremated. This statement rolls around in your mind as you contemplate death and what that would look like for you. Then you question, “Is Cremation something a Christian can consider?”
What Is Cremation?
Cremation is a process in which intense fire is used to transform the human body back to its basic elements, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Because most of the body is tissue, it’s vaporized in the process leaving bone behind. This is completed in a cremation chamber, a masonry lined enclosure with temperatures of 1800-2000 degrees.
When someone wishes to be cremated, typically they are placed in a wooden or cardboard casket and placed in the chamber. Within a few hours, the body is reduced to bone fragments. The bone fragments are then placed on a table and all-metal debris such as pins, screws, titanium limbs, are removed by hand. The bone fragments are then placed in a special processor that crushes the fragments to a fine powder. These “cremains” are then placed in a plastic bag inside an urn and returned to the loved one’s family.
This practice is becoming the norm. The National Funeral Directors Association expects the trend shifting from burial toward cremation to continue over the next 20 years, with the projected rate of cremation reaching 78.8% of deaths by 2035. For the first time in American history, the majority of Americans are choosing cremation rather than burial at 50.2%.
Why Are More People Choosing Cremation?
A common reason why more people are choosing cremation is to avoid the expenses related to funeral services and burial. A traditional funeral can often cost around $8,000 to $10,000 while the average cost of cremation is $1,500 to $2,500. There’s also the cost of digging a grave and purchasing funeral plots as well. Both run around $1,000 each.
A new growing trend developed in Italy is the Capusla Mundi project. The cost of these biodegradable urns is around $500. Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel have developed an organic, biodegradable burial capsule that will turn the deceased’s body into nutrients for a tree that will grow out of their remains. After being encapsulated in the fetal position, the deceased is buried and either a tree or tree seed is planted above their capsule. As of right now, the project is waiting to gain clearance of burial laws. If it is approved, the goal is to create memorial parks full of trees instead of tombstones.
Trees hold great symbolism and meaning across many different cultures. In many ways, a tree’s life cycle mirrors the human experience. God starts us from a seed in the womb. We grow from young and small to strong, tall, and firmly rooted in the ground of his Word. Eventually, we grow old and pass from this earth to heaven.
What Does the Bible Say about Cremation?
The first reference to cremation is found in 1 Samuel 31, where Saul and his sons are burned and then their bones are buried.
But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days (1 Sam. 31:11-13).
The only other references are found in the book of Amos 2:1 and Amos 6:8-10. Leviticus 20:14 indirectly mentions cremation, since they involve capital punishment that requires the offender to be “burned with fire.” However, there are over 200 references to burial in the Old Testament which indicates this was the custom of the culture at that time. For ancient Israel, burial in a tomb, cave, or in the ground was the common way to dispose of a human body (Genesis 23:19; 35:19; 2 Chronicles 16:14; Matthew 27:60-66).
John MacArthur tells us: "Actually, the Scriptures do not say anything about required modes of burial for believers. Standard practice among Old Testament and in the New Testament was burial. Saul and Jonathan were cremated by the Israelites after their deaths, but this was not normal practice in Israel. Their bodies were mutilated by the Philistines, thus the decision was made to cremate, then bury the ashes (1 Samuel 31:8-13). Achan, and his family, were cremated upon their execution for sinning against Israel, which again appears to be an exception to normal burial practices among the Israelites."
Should Christians Bury or Cremate?
We had a big argument with my mother not long before she died, and she wanted to be cremated, didn't want to take up space, didn't want to make a problem. And we just said, "Yeah, mom. Yeah, mom." And then we buried her in a casket. And I mean, this was a family argument we had. There is a lot of cremation done in the Christian church.
I am not keen on it. I am not saying there is firm biblical teaching against it, but I did a piece for Baptist Press a number of years ago where I listed 10 reasons why I favored the other. And burial, that's a picture of baptism, I mean we're buried with Christ, in baptism raised in newness of life.
There are associations with Pagan burnings of the body, burning pyres in India, and so forth. I think that the biblical example is of special regard for the preciousness of the bones. They bring the bones back and bury the body from Egypt, and the like.
I think also there's just great reverence for the body. I mean, my mom's body was the one that birthed me, and that nursed me, and as I look at that mom in the hospital bed with the little IVs and so forth, that body is precious. And there's a certain piece of reverence.
I talk about just the treasure of graveyards, of cemeteries. How Cave Hill in Louisville has the bones of the founders of the seminary and you can walk in their reverential moments. And [inaudible 00:01:34] is full of it. Up from the grave, he arose. It's not like, "And the ashes from the winds."
There are just so many reasons that seem to me, to suggest, that the physical burial of a body is optimum.
Is Cremation a Sin?
There is no explicit scriptural command against cremation. Some believers object to the practice of cremation on the basis that it does not recognize that one day God will resurrect our bodies and reunite them with our spirit (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
The fact that a body is cremated does not make it impossible or difficult for God to resurrect that body. He can resurrect a body eaten by a shark or a baby torn limb from limb and aborted by its mother. God is equally able to raise a person’s remains that have been cremated as he is the remains of a person who was not cremated. The question of burial or cremation is within the realm of Christian freedom.
When we consider how God created mankind, it supports this fact. In Genesis 1:27, we are told that God created man. The verb to create is the Hebrew bara. In Genesis 2:7, the Bible says God formed man (Hebrew asah). Since both of these verses speak of God creating man, we find that man was both created and formed. God created Adam by using pre-existing material, the earth. The word translated form is used in Scripture of the work of a potter forming his clay. The Hebrew has a play of words in Genesis 2:7. The word translated man is the Hebrew word adam while the word translated dust of the earth is the Hebrew word adamah.
Why Does This Matter?
It doesn’t matter if a loved one is cremated, buried, or placed in a pod to become a tree. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Job reiterated the final moments of the body in Job 34:14-15, “If it were his intention and he withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust."
God will resurrect his people at the second coming. Funerals are meant for the living as a chance to celebrate the life of their loved ones who have passed. It is a chance to remember, respect, and reminisce their lives. It is also a reminder that we are ultimately in God’s hands. He’s given us life, the breath in our lungs and the bodies that hold our spirits. One day we will meet him face to face with a new body that will never wear out for all eternity.
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Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.