By: Dr. J. Brad Bailey
I’ll never forget the first funeral that I was asked to perform that was a cremation. There was a sense of unusual awkwardness that existed, and I confess that I still feel somewhat awkward about cremation funerals. At first I was tolerant because of the many excuses that people had issued regarding cremation. I heard them complaining about the high cost of traditional funerals and how cremation was a cheaper alternative. I heard those who spiritualized the issue by saying that it didn’t matter what happened to their bodies after they were dead because they would not be present in soul to endure it. Other excuses were issued over the years, but it never made me feel totally comfortable with the idea of cremation.
You may have experienced something of a similar nature yourself. It may not have been the issue of cremation in discussion, but I’m sure you have been confronted by an issue that you felt mysteriously uncomfortable about. Sometimes you can’t put your finger on it, but there is a trepidation that exists that keeps you from doing certain things until you know more about the subject. We often call that hesitance the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
According to the Cremation Association of North America, the cremation rate rose from approximately fifteen percent of all deaths in 1985 to about a third as of 2006. Those are solid numbers. As I began to investigate the matter of cremation I discovered that it was indeed the Holy Spirit that was compelling me internally to balk at the notion of burning the dead. I have discovered certain truths over the years that have led me to conclude that cremation should not be an option of the child of God. I’ll share some of those reasons with you.
Cremation is associated with idolatry. The Bible records several passages that tell people who were burned alive. It was called passing through the fire and it was part of an idolatrous act of worship (2 Chron. 28:3; 2 Kgs. 16:2-3, 17:17, 31, 21:1-6; Jer. 7:31, 19:4-5; Eze. 16:20-21, 23:37).
The incineration of a human body is considered a form of God’s judgment. God brought fire down on individuals as a form of judgment (Gen. 19:24; Num. 11:1; Lev. 10:1-2; Eze. 39:6; 2 Pet. 3:10). On one occasion in the book of Amos, God was indicting the Jews and the Gentiles together for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crimes listed were unspeakable. Both Jews and Gentiles were engaged in the imprisonment of innocent civilians (i.e. the elderly, the spouses of soldiers, etc.) after conquering their homeland. God judged Gentiles and Jews for excessive cruelty in war, for genocidal murder, and other human atrocities. Moab was singled out in Amos 2:1-2 for a particular crime which included exhuming and burning the bones of the king of Edom into lime. As an act of disgrace to the dead king, they cremated him. God said that his was an unacceptable and disgraceful practice and pronounced judgment because of it.
Cremation is associated with God’s people burning the dead to show contempt (Josh. 7:25; 2 Sam. 23:7; 2 Kgs. 23:16, 20).
Cremation is associated with Pantheism. Pantheism in its eastern form is associated with salvation from the body by escaping reincarnation
Cremation is associated with disobedience (Josh 7:15-26).
Cremation was reserved for criminals. When Christ was crucified on Golgotha, it was assumed by the Romans that His body would be discarded into the Valley of Hinnom, like all other local victims of crucifixion. If it had not been for Joseph and Nicodemus (Mark 15:42-47) our Lord’s body would have been thrown into a valley where the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44, 46, 48) and incinerated. This was unthinkable to God-fearing believers and they retrieved the body of Christ to prevent such desecration.
The Jews and the Christians of the Bible did not cremate their dead.
Cremation gives the false idea that death is the end of everything.
Only if one rejects certain biblical truths and concepts does cremation make any sense. That explains why cremation is more popular among liberal churches, denominations and unbelievers.
While many reason exist as to why people are favoring cremation, one reason that ops the list is the portability of urn remains. As Americans have become more and more transient over the years, having the ability to transport the burned remains of the dead seems to be appealing to most as well. I would contend that this adds to the problem of transience. One California citizen said, “I just don’t feel it’s right that the dead should take up space on the planet that could be used for the living . . .” This again revels that funeral arrangements have become the servant of convenience in most people’s minds.
Israel’s first and only crematorium was opened in 2005 and was shortly thereafter burned to the ground by Jews who deplored vehemently deplored the practice of burning the dead. The controversy over the crematorium stemmed from the fact that in traditional Jewish practice, cremation is banned. The act contradicts the command to bury the dead as set forth in Deuteronomy 21:23 and is said to negate the possibility of reincarnation. Additionally, the burning of the human body, created in God’s image, is viewed as blasphemy.
The Bible makes a number of statements that give us enough evidence that cremation is not a godly practice. For example, the Old Testament teaches that the dead were to be buried – Deuteronomy 21:22-23, And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. If the criminal deserves such a decent burial, then what does that tell us about the saint?
God buried Moses. Deuteronomy 34:5-6 says, “So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” This passage tells us that if God was doing your funeral, He would bury you. God’s method of disposing of the dead is not cremation.
Paul spoke of the fact that if his body was ever burned it would be because of persecution, not cremation (cf. 1 Cor. 13:3).
Burial has incredible symbolism in the act of baptism. The baptism of fire is likened to judgment and God’s displeasure with sinners. It is the death, burial and resurrection that comprise the message of the Gospel; not the death, cremation and resurrection. It is true that God is able to resurrect a body from the ashes, or from other catastrophic events that disintegrate the body. However, burial shows respect for the body, and also displays a hope for the resurrection.