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Burial vs Cremation: Is one more godly than the other?

09.10.13 Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, 1 Kings 31:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 2 Chronicles 21:1, Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 49:29-32, Genesis 50:25, Hebrews 11:9-10, Kings 14:16, and Numbers 19:13 Topics: Death & Dying

I am going to give a quick answer to this question followed by an explanation that is biblically expounded so together you and I can see the line of reasoning from Scripture. The Bible does not say cremation is good or bad. The Bible is reasonably silent on the burial process of a human being. The Bible does give us a few Old Testament commands for the Nation of Israel on caring for the body of the deceased (Numbers 19:13), but no command is given for the permanent placing of the body. When the Bible is silent on a topic the general conclusion is that God has given us liberty. When we have Christian liberty to choose, the rule of thumb is to seek to honor the Lord in whatever decisions you make. Therefore when it comes to burials, regardless of whatever method you choose, choose to honor the Lord.

Tradition: Why burials are Popular

Traditionally Americans have buried their dead, but our traditions aren’t biblical mandates. It is true that when you read the Bible most of those who died, were buried. However, their reason for being buried is not because God told them they had to be buried. It had more to do with the future promises to Israel in regards to the Promise Land. Most Old Testament Saints were buried for good reasons, but not as a command from God. Here are their reasons:

  1. Jacob wanted to be buried in the Promise land so he could be placed permanently with his family and gathered with his people. (Genesis 49:29-32). Remember all of Israel’s future is based on a promise from God to the Jews. God is going to give them the land of Canaan and He will be their King. Therefore, many Israelites wanted a permanent presence in that land. Being buried in the ground is a sure way to make sure that happens. For whatever it is worth, Jacob also gave instructions on what to do with his remains (Genesis 50:25). In addition Abraham wanted buried in the promise land just like Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3).
  2. Some people find comfort in knowing their physical body will be lying next to loved ones. The death of Kings in the Old Testament is often recorded as “And they rested with their ancestors (2 Kings 14:16; 2 Chronicles 21:1). the Jews seemed to choose burials as the way to make sure this happens.
  3. In addition, when the Jews were buried in Canaan it was to remind everyone of the future promise God gave. They were looking forward to the day when their future king would come and reign (Hebrews 11:9-10).

It seems that we have continued with burials today because it was the tradition of the past. However, much has changed between our day and the days of Abraham and Jacob. Most of us are not Jews by birth and we are not in the promise land. Following the traditions of the past can give us comfort, but it is not necessary. What is profitable is to honor God. One final thought on the tradition of Burials: I would conclude by reminding all of us that if you like the Burial practice, even though you are buried, you likely will not follow the Old Testament burial practice. Most of the Old Testament saints were buried in caves (i.e. Jesus). You will likely be buried in dirt. Even though our American tradition may be similar, it is not the same. You are not in Israel and it is not a cave. I would tread lightly before ever making a dogmatic stand on the need to be buried. It maybe a preference, but the Bible doesn’t make it a theological necessity.

The theological thought behind Burial rituals

One of the theological questions often considered when people talk about nontraditional forms of burials is, what about the resurrection. If you are placed in a mausoleum or an urn, will God honor your resurrection? Believe me I certainly do not want to miss out on God’s gracious promises to us. The promise the Bible gives is that Jesus will one day resurrect his followers and bring them to his kingdom (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). However, it is worth asking; if we are cremated will God skip over us in the resurrection? After all, you will have no body! The answer to that question is “NO”. Consider this, in the Old Testament, there were many people buried, but some were cremated. In 1st Kings 31:12 Saul and His sons were cremated. Saul was Israel’s King. Shortly after the battle that took Saul’s life, a cremation was performed to honor Him. In addition, the bodies of those who were buried in the Old Testament times have long since decayed into dust. From Dust we came and to Dust we will return. In a way, cremation simply speeds up the process of decay. When considering a biblical stand on cremation and burials, we must also consider those who have tragically lost their lives in ways their bodies were destroyed. I say this with respect for the decease: many people have lost their lives being eaten by animals, burned alive, or blown up by a modern day bomb. Do you think Jesus can resurrect these bodies? The answer is Yes! Jesus doesn’t need to have a form of you to resurrect you. He created you from nothing and He can resurrect you from nothing.

Conclusion:

Glory belongs to God and it is demonstrated in the way you honor Him and life when a loved one leaves this world behind. The Bible does not dictate how we are to bury someone. We should use funerals to honor God and love others. You have liberty in burials. That liberty should always lead us to Christ and His resurrection promise.