WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT CREMATION?
Life exists in time and seasons; there is a time for everything under the sun, and as said in Ecclesiastes 3:2, “there is a time to be born and a time to die.” We all know the creation story about how God created everything in 7 days, but our searchlight would focus on the cremation of man. Genesis 2:7 tells us God formed man from the dust of the ground, and without the breath of life, he would have just been a sculpture made of dust. The breath of life made him a living soul.
Now that we have established where man comes from, we ask ourselves, where does he return? Dust? Because that’s supposed to be the way of composition and decomposition according to biology. Does that concern the things of the spirit? After all, the spirit governs the flesh is the belief widely held in Christendom.
As humans, after the loss of a loved one, we are saddled with the responsibility of interring them; this is such a tricky stage where a decision has to be made in preserving the memory of such a loved one. This could prove problematic as faith, choices, and practices might differ. Common practice is burying the body six feet deep under the earth; what do we say about those who cremate their loved ones? Are they just going against the normal or commuting a sin? Does our Christianity allow us to cremate our dead?. Let’s find out.
WHAT IS CREMATION?
Cremation is an alternative to the widely accepted practice of burying the dead. It involves burning the body, reducing the body to bone fragments in the process, after which they are ground into dust. The remains are kept in a container (most commonly an urn) handed to their loved ones, to which they can dispose of as they wish or according to the wish of the dead. Some may be kept in the family, mixed with paint, added into a coral structure, thrown into the sea, or even still interred.
Wow, what a painful process, some might think. Well, it is not, given that the dead can’t experience pain. It’s just their mere body, the empty vessel. Burying is a decomposition process that takes a lot of time, as each part of the body decomposes at varying rates. Cremation eliminates that long process, and gets the decomposition done fast and quickly, all while taking little expenses to cover.
Since time immemorial, people had one way or the other let go of their dead; embalming, mummification, and the widely known burials, amongst many others, were methods in which people said goodbye to their dead. Some of these methods are particular to a tribe or region. Mummification and embalming reigned notably amongst the Egyptians, while cremation was among those who practiced Judaism, which was part of the problem it first encountered as a mode of burial.
Long ago, cremation only became an option when there was a global pandemic and people had no alternative to bury their dead when the graveyards were full. Health officials advised it because of the tendency to seep out various infections into the soil while the bodies decomposed, hence not halting the spread of the virus. Cremation entirely stops and halts the spread of such infections.
Just last year, during the spate of the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospitals and morgues were filled with dead bodies, the people of Italy opted to cremate their corpses instead of burying them, out of the fear of catching the virus from the dead. So much so that some crematoria (where cremation of corpses takes place) were overwhelmed in Northern Italy, and were running beyond maximum capacity.
Asides from cases of emergencies, cremation is still widely practiced in some countries of the world, most notably India, due to their practice of Hinduism and Buddhism. It began mainly because of the lower cost and environmental impact, as traditional burials were more expensive and people in impoverished regions preferred to cremate, and it gradually became the norm. It also gave the further option of not having to spend much more on coffins, pallbearers and all, and if one is relocating, you can take the ashes of your loved ones with you for any reason, be it sentimental or not.
WHAT DOES CHRISTIANITY THINK?
With the spread of Christianity, cremation at first faced stern opposition and was frowned upon by people of the faith, and it gradually receded into little or no acceptance. Christians hold a belief, one which is very important in Christianity; the resurrection power. Some believe that when Christ needs to resurrect the dead, he needs a full-body, not dust. If Lazarus had been cremated, would he have been raised from dust? Cremation, according to science, is an irreversible reaction.
It is widely held that our faith would have been null and void without Christ resurrecting from the dead. Just imagine for a second that Christ was cremated instead of being buried? What would have been?. When people were first called Christians, they were referred to as such because they saw that their behavior was like that of Christ. Hence the notion to live, die, and be buried like Christ, as nobody wants to be ruled out of resurrection when Christ comes to take up the saints, as said in the book of revelations.
However, this begets the question, do we think that it’s too hard for God to breathe life into dust, or to raise the dead from its dust? After all, he created man from dust; can he not do it again, or are we of little faith?
IS CREMATION CONSIDERED A SIN?
The whole burial process can be long, full of the declarations of love and admiration for those that have passed. Although painful, it has a sense of dignity attached to the dead, while on the other hand, some Christians believe that cremation doesn’t speak well of the dead in Christianity. They think it speaks ill of the circumstance of their death. It doesn’t give an avenue for the loved ones to correctly say their goodbyes, and the burning might prove a terrible sight for them.
Cremation might give off the feeling that no one wants to associate with the dead, or even perform the burial rites on them, as it was reserved for those who died under unpleasant circumstances. The early Christians practiced this; as witches, people with unclean spirits, or those who had committed abominations were burnt at the pyre. This notion is still widely held amongst some circles in Christianity.
We might as well say it gives a visual representation of hell in their eyes, and hell is a place reserved for sinners, and it might represent that such a person is taking rewards of their evil deed on earth before journeying to the life beyond. It is widely believed that once the body is burned, it won’t rise on the day of resurrection; this is supposed to be a fate for sinners. Also, in Ecclesiastes 6:3, the bible says that “it is better for a man not to be born than to have no burial.”
It is important to note that we aren’t saying that cremation is a sin; we are just examining the bias spread among the faith due to misinformation and misinterpretation of the word.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE BURNT/CREMATED IN THE BIBLE?
In cases of death and burial throughout the bible, the human body was treated with the utmost respect, and showed care and delicate treatment even in their death. They were bathed, wrapped in clothing, and even sprayed with expensive perfumes. Nevertheless, there were certain instances where the cremation of the dead still took place. Here are some examples below:
Saul and his sons (1st Samuel 31:11 – 13): Saul and his sons who suffered severe injuries and had their bodies mutilated by their assailants and hurriedly got buried in terrible and unfavorable conditions in a strange land. After King David heard of this, he had his men go and exhume, burn their bodies, and transport them back for a proper burial. This was done, and there was no warning or rebuke from the Lord to the king for his action recorded in the bible; neither was it counted as a sin against him. The circumstance warranted such action.
Josiah (2nd chronicles 34:5): This chapter contains a recap of the reign of Josiah for one and thirty years, and he was said to do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, which included burning the bones of priests upon their altars in an attempt to purge the land.
Achan (Joshua 7:25): After the children of Israel had committed a trespass in the eye of the Lord, which triggered the wrath of the Lord against them as they lost and were smitten in a battle against the people of Ai. Achan was caught in possession of some of these accursed things. He was brought out, stoned, and burnt with fire.
These few instances might as well have fueled the fire of misinformation that cremation might be a result of sin. Rightly so, because the above cases were all one form or the other, that was void of dignity and resulted from an act of shamelessness. In some of these cases, the cremation resulted from punishment as it was meted out to show pure and unbridled anger at an act that is frowned on by God. If it is not met with banishment to their family members, they are met with that stiff punishment which is reserved for a terrible illness, and thus takes away the dignity that a proper burial brings.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
The bible does not outrightly approve or go against the idea of cremation; if anything, the idea further strengthens the notion that “from dust, we have come, and to it, we shall return.” But in our quest and furtherance to understand the word of God, we sometimes tend to overthink things and begin to question a thing or two about Him (Acts 36:8).
As highlighted above, we have grown to know in modern Christianity that cremation was a disposition reserved for the ills and societal rejects, hence the burning of witches and many more who have been convicted of certain evil, whereas that does not offer any validation as to why saints should not take it. There was no instance in the Bible where God frowned against the idea, for example, in the case of Saul and his sons. Asides from that, if the occasion warrants it be done, it can also be done anywhere and for anyone who chooses that way.
In addition to this, many also feel that cremation would hinder the resurrection power when Jesus would come for his beloved and the grave would open up for the dead to rise. He that breathes life into a sculpture made of dust, is it too big for him to raise such a soul from the dust again? Besides, he is not coming for the body, but the soul. We were briefly shown the extent and not the peak of his power when he said in Ezekiel 37:7 that “as Elijah prophesied as he was commanded, there was a noise and rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.”
This was God channeling his power through a mere mortal; now, is there a limit to what he can do on the day of resurrection?
It all comes down to personal preference, and one should not think of the day of resurrection as a yardstick not to perform cremation. Not only are we doing the environment a favor, but our God can also do all things. The flesh profiteth us nothing. All bodies buried since time are all dust by now, and when the time happens, they will become dust if God tarries (1st Corinthians 15:35 – 44).
Do not worry nor fret; if God can breathe life into mere dust, prophecy the gathering of bones through a mere mortal in Elijah, if resurrection warrants raising souls from the dust, would that be too much for him to do? Surely no. Your soul shall rise to meet him on the day of resurrection. Just make sure you are “dead in Christ.”(1st Corinthians 15:52)