|A89 : by Tony Garland |
The Bible does not give explicit guidance concerning the acceptability of cremation for the Christian believer.
Even so, many Christians are uneasy with the idea, perhaps in part because burial practices recorded in the Bible do not mention cremation. Another reason may be a perceived similarity between descriptions of the Lake of Fire and the process of cremation.
In the times and cultures highlighted in the Bible, the dead were mainly placed in a cave, a tomb, or the ground. Sometimes, after the body had decomposed in a cave or tomb, the bones were subsequently collected for transport or later deposit in an ossuary. In the case of Joseph, his body was embalmed to preserve it for eventual relocation to the Land of Promise (Gen. 50:26; Jos. 24:32).
Some Christians express reservations concerning cremation from the point of view that the process would either prevent or make it more difficult for God to resurrect them. This cannot be the case.
At the moment of death, the soul and spirit of the believer depart from the body. Given the normal process of death and decay—especially in extenuating circumstances when the body cannot be buried—the elements making up the body rapidly decompose and even bones, left to the elements, will dissolve to dust. Even where the body is buried, decay, worms, and other natural factors serve to disassemble the body and distribute its elements in a manner that only God can know.
Moreover, many Christians in history past have died in accidents or explosions or as martyrs for the faith burned at the stake or even in ovens during the holocaust. We must also assume Christians were present in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the detonation of the two atomic bombs by the United States in WWII.
Scripture is clear in recording that every believer who trusts in Christ has eternal life and will be resurrected. The normal process of decay, while proving an insurmountable puzzle for us in determining the resulting distribution of the body, is of little consequence to our all-powerful God. He first created man from the dust and resurrecting all the saints, including those who happened to perish in fiery circumstances like those mentioned above, will pose no problem for Him. As Christians, we need not worry that cremation will somehow interfere with the process of resurrection. If it were so, we should expect to find clear and compelling advice to the contrary in the Scriptures—yet we do not.
For some Christians, there is still a lingering uneasiness because fire is most often found in Scripture in relation to unpleasant circumstances and judgment. Yet is important to consider that while descriptions of the Lake of Fire, the final destination of the unsaved dead, are compared to the burning garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom [gehenna], in actuality the Lake of Fire far exceeds the analogy. It is a place of both physical and spiritual separation and torment which is beyond our conception. The descriptions of fire and torment associated with it are not purely physical because the bodies of the unsaved are not consumed or annihilated. The Lake of Fire is especially fearful because the unsaved dead are fully present within the torment—body, soul, and spirit. Thus, it is completely different than physical cremation, where the soul and spirit of the dead one have already departed. At death, all that remains is the lifeless body or 'tent' as Paul referred to it (2Cor. 5:1-4; 2Pe. 1:13-14). Paul understood that, at death, he would put off 'this tent' and was not preoccupied with what would become of it.
Although cremation and the Lake of Fire both have fire superficially in common, they are entirely separate situations which should be distinguished. Cremation merely affects the body of the departed before resurrection. The Lake of Fire affects the entire person (body, soul, and spirit) of the unsaved after resurrection and the final judgment and is therefore called the “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8).
Since Scripture nowhere warns against cremation as a method of handling the remains of the dead and everywhere asserts God's power to raise the dead from every situation of history past, it would seem to be a matter best decided by individual Christian freedom and conviction.
Spurgeon certainly didn't seem to be concerned about whether cremation would interfere with his resurrection:
I must—this body must be a carnival for worms; it must be eaten by those tiny cannibals; peradventure it shall be scattered from one portion of the earth to another; the constituent particles of this my frame will enter into plants, from plants pass into animals, and thus be carried into far distant realms; but, at the blast of the archangel's trumpet, every separate atom of my body shall find its fellow; like the bones lying in the valley of vision, though separated from one another, the moment God shall speak, the bone will creep to its bone; then the flesh shall come upon it; the four winds of heaven shall blow, and the breath shall return. So let me die, let beasts devour me, let fire turn this body into gas and vapor, all its particles shall yet again be restored; this very self-same, actual body shall start up from its grave, glorified and made like Christ's body, yet still the same body, for God hath said it. Christ's same body rose; so shall mine. O my soul, dost thou now dread to die? Thou wilt lose thy partner body a little while, but thou wilt be married again in heaven; soul and body shall again be united before the throne of God. The grave—what is it? It is the bath in which the Christian puts the clothes of his body to have them washed and cleansed. Death—what is it? It is the waiting-room where we robe ourselves for immortality; it is the place where the body, like Esther, bathes itself in spices that it may be fit for the embrace of its Lord. Death is the gate of life; I will not fear to die, then, but will say,
"Shudder not to pass the stream;
Venture all thy care on him;
Him whose dying love and power
Stilled its tossing, hushed its roar,
Safe in the expanded wave;
Gentle as a summer's eve.
Not one object of his care
Ever suffered shipwreck there."1