Are your family papers in order? Specifically, do you have a current will? Here are some thoughts for consideration, regarding a controversial subject that you may want to include among your personal written instructions for when your spirit has finally left your body one day. Will it be cremation, or burial of the intact body?
Although cremation is becoming the dominant way of burying Americans dead, is this practice a good idea for a believer? What does the Bible say about this? Regardless of how we or our loved ones have responded to this decision in the past, let's look at what we may want to do in future when we are called upon to make this decision. Let's take a serious look at the roots of cremation. When its origins are considered closely, one can trace the practice of cremation straight to the pagan fires of such countries as India, South America, and China. The South Sea Islands, for example, had a practice, in the not-so-distant past, of throwing the living wife on top of the fire of her dead husband (i.e., both were cremated).
Because something is "done" in a culture, doesn't mean it ought to be done. As believers, Scripture alone is our rule for all of life and conduct. If it is not, the culture becomes our rule. We then are in danger of arriving at a place where all issues descend into cases of "anything goes" via current (and ever-descending, in moral terms) public consensus.
Reincarnation is at the root of the idea of cremation. Pagans must burn the body, because they believe the person comes back to earth as a monkey, or cow—so any evidence of the previous life must be eradicated. On the other hand, at the core of Christian beliefs—celebrated by us all at this time of the year—is that all is redeemed, made new, including the old body, which is re-gathered. Consider the dry bones of Ezekiel 37. If there were no bones, then "what" would have been re-gathered? What if the body of the Savior had been cremated? Christians believe that they will see each other in the flesh in the next life. Hindus do not.
Nowhere in Scripture do we see cremation condoned. In fact, we see just the opposite. Consider 2 Chronicles 34:5. Note that cremation was done to the wicked, as a sign of judgment. Fire is a sign of judgment, not of life. All evil practices have an origin, and the origin tracks with the expression of that practice through all time. If we don't agree with what the practice was declaring at its inception, it makes no sense to buy into the practice later. We, as a people, have not stopped to consider what comes with such practices, in the spirit realm.
Believers in the Messiah, instead, want to honor the body because it shows our conviction that the person is eternal. Joseph, looking forward to the next life as he was dying in Egypt, said, "Take my bones with you to Canaan." For the believer, there is a connected dignity to this life and in the next life. It would not be at all surprising to find that some Hebrews will awake upon the exact spot of their future inheritance plot, where they will live on in the coming Millennium. They believed in an afterlife, as Job said: "Though worms destroy this body, in my flesh shall I see God." Throughout Genesis the patriarchs were all buried. The ongoing practice of burial from Adam and Eve to the present day actually is yet another evidence today of the Israelites’ deed claims to the very land of Israel. When ownership of land is being contested via the legalities of provenance (who was originally there, or who was there first), it is hard to argue with the locations of grave sites and burial stones.
Our Lord's own example as the pioneer in all things in our faith, our forerunner, was to sovereignly allow Himself to be buried. Joseph of Arimathea chose this as a way of restoring dignity to the Lord. Joseph saw to it that he was careful in all of the details of giving the Lord a proper burial. If the Lord had been cremated, a major piece of the afterward story couldn't have happened or been told for all time. It would have been impossible to show the truth of resurrection without the body. The same is true of Lazarus' body. What happened to his body was a major testimony to a multitude of people about eternal life, as all funerals and memorial services are meant to be, even down to the present age. All the resurrections that happened simultaneously with the Lord's own, when the tombs were opened in Jerusalem, would not have been possible, without bodies. The hope of the resurrected body is one of the believer's most cherished immortal treasures. And God personally chose this way of burying Moses himself. It seems paramount that God wants us to get the message by burying, symbolically copied in our baptisms, by the way, that the body is sown corruptible and then is raised incorruptible.
Let's look finally at two practical aspects. In order to accomplish cremation, one has to look squarely at the fact that ovens are used in this process. Flesh burns speedily, but bones do not. The raging high levels of heat (sometimes 1,700 degrees) necessary in these crematorium ovens, to get the job completely accomplished, is atrocious. They often have to grind the bones, in addition. (God was upset with the Moabites for burning bones.) It is almost as if the Lord made the body to refuse to be stamped out, even after it is dead. It is difficult to accomplish this with bones. Because Americans don't see the practice, and are not forced to watch the entire process, they remain untroubled. We cling to the idea that what is hidden is not, in our culture. And why would one want for one's loved ones the same practice that was used to try to annihilate the Jewish race—Hitler's ovens? An oven is involved in this process. In the Scriptures, fire is a sign of God’s wrath, not of honor. And it is fire that will destroy the earth, finally.
And what of the ashes? Rationally, who wants ashes (not a person) in a decorated urn in their living rooms for the rest of their lives? Whatever do we keep them around FOR? Another material possession? We have accepted what is unthinkable—even against our reason, OR our emotions? Do we really want to endlessly hammer on our emotions each time we dust, when the Lord has graciously provided another way to show respect, and to emotionally cope with the finality of death, and hold on to pleasant memories of a living person?
Many think they are choosing cremation because it is cheaper. But for centuries the dead have been buried on the day they die—eliminating all the need for expensive cosmetic afterlife procedures—often in a simple pine box. Even today the simplest of coffins can be procured at low costs. Earlier, people of faith (Jewish and Christian) wrapped the body in linen and put it directly into the ground. Inexpensive grave sites can be found in less populated areas. We don't have to straddle ourselves with the huge price tag of a luxurious formal mortuary, by choosing what is Biblically right. Much of life is about choices. In the last analysis, we will make happen what we want to happen, or are convicted should happen. Let us ask of ourselves if each of our choices is governed by Scripture or by the culture. Which will we be proud of, or ashamed of, in the next life? If one hunts for the Lord's wishes in Scripture, they can be found, in all matters governing our life and death.