If the Bible Teaches Resurrection of the Body, What About Cremation?

Jason Micheli —  January 10, 2013 — 5 Comments

Rev19CLambIf the biblical teaching of eternal life is physical resurrection of the body into God’s new creation, then what do you say about cremation and organ donation?

I get this question often.

First, it’s important for Christians to keep in mind that this is a question the first Christians- or Jews for that matter- would’ve also asked.

Second, it’s important for Christians to realize the first Christians- and Jews- were well aware (perhaps much more so than contemporary people who can push death off into hospital wards and nursing homes) of what happens to material bodies when they die.

Third, it’s important for Christians- and Jews- to remember that Resurrection flew in the face of what every worldview and religion in the ancient world presumed.

And yet, Resurrection was the fundamental Christian proclamation.

Now, to the question.

There’s a story, which may be just a story, of a pagan asking an early Church Father (Origen, I think): ‘What if a Christian is eaten by a cannibal? In the resurrection, whose body would be raised? The eaten or the eator?’ It’s best not to think too hard or impose our categories of what’s possible on resurrection was the reply.

And that’s usually how I respond. It’s certainly not good news that if someone’s body is lost or ruined then they can’t participate in the resurrection. Just as its best not to think too woodenly about the continuity of my earthly body and my resurrected body. The stress is on the material nature of eternal life; scripture isn’t implying that if you’re bald now you will be eternally.

And I’m an organ donor myself.

But here’s my BUT.

I don’t like cremation. Not because I think the God who made heaven and earth and raised Jesus from the dead can’t somehow restore a cremated person to full resurrected life in the new creation.

I don’t like cremation for aesthetic reasons. In the same way, I don’t like it when communion is served with eenie weenie pieces of bread and little plastic individual cups. It’s supposed to be a feast. The liturgy uses feast language because that’s what God’s Kingdom is like. Eenie weenie pieces of bread point to something else.

I don’t like cremation because the language of our faith (and the funeral liturgy) points to bodily resurrection, and the popularity of cremation goes hand in hand I suspect with modern Western Christians no longer making resurrection the central claim of their faith.

We in the West forget that cremation is still very much forbidden and/or looked down upon among Orthodox Christians, Jews and African American Christians- groups that haven’t lost the importance of incarnation and the body in scripture.

 

Jason Micheli

Posts

5 responses to If the Bible Teaches Resurrection of the Body, What About Cremation?

  1. While the symbolism of cremation isn’t great, what are reasonable options in the face of increasing population and decreasing land available? Cemeteries with multiple layers have been used. Ashes to ashes is OK with me. How much of burial is about the living rather than the dead?

    • Couple of thoughts….the Orthodox Christians live in nations that are much more densely populated and this is a doable thing for them. I think most burial practices today bear little resemblance to Christian practice- they have a coffin now that you can stream music to for your loved ones. If that’s not pagan I don’t what is. Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville is opening a natural, bury you in a shroud in the ground, Christian cemetery.

    • I seem to remember a phrase that keeps coming up in Christian burial services – “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”. Wouldn’t cremation would just speed this process along?

      • Except the ‘dust to dust’ language is meant to emphasize that creation and new creation is material and embodied; whereas, the contemporary fixation on cremation reflects the very opposite perspective.

  2. Jason,

    I have to be honest with you. I am starting to become irritated with you and your blog. Just when I think I have it all figured out, you do an absolutely wonderful job of explaining Heaven and why I need to rethink everything I have ever been taught. Who would have thought that God would have started off telling us about the difference between Heaven and Earth in Gen 1:1. I never knew it could be so simple and so complex, all at the same time. If you have a book about this topic that you could recommend, I would be grateful.

    Now about cremation. Once again, I never considered the eternal implications of the action. I have always wanted to be cremated because I know that I will be dead for sure. I don’t want to be the guy that wakes up in the coffin the day after the funeral. How would you counsel someone like me?

    rob

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.