Is God OK with Cremation?
My parents are elderly, and my father is making some decisions regarding the future. He wants to know if cremation is biblical and if it’s OK with God. Can you shed any light on this?
Thank you for your e-mail, and I appreciate your question. My heart goes out to you regarding the challenges your parents are facing, and I commend your father for thinking through these difficult questions in advance.
More and more people seem to be looking to cremation as an alternative to burial these days. Newsweek reported (March 16, 2009[i]) that in the mid-60’s, less than 4% of funerals in America involved cremation. In 2008, though, cremation was involved in more than one-third of funerals. Some observers expect the cremation rate to hit 60% by 2025. Economics could certainly be driving much of this, as Newsweek also reported that the average cost of a “traditional” funeral is now nearly $10,000, while cremation is significantly less expensive.
There are some who have the conviction that burial is the only appropriate (God-approved) way to carry out the disposition of human remains. For others, burial is simply a preference. In either case, I would certainly want to respect and honor a person’s convictions and/or preferences. There are others, though, who do not hold to such a conviction or preference regarding burial. For them, cremation is a valid alternative.
Regarding burial vs. cremation… the Bible describes several instances of burial, but that was simply the custom of many of the people in biblical times. Most often, burial took place in a tomb, cave, or in the ground. Jesus was buried according to the custom of his time (John 19:40). The embalming process they used in that day was one that most scholars believe was learned in Egypt (it was an external embalming only).
Some have wondered if cremation will somehow thwart God’s plans for the resurrection. I remember learning many years ago in a science class that “matter cannot be destroyed; it can only change form.” For example, you can boil a pan of water until the pan is empty, but you didn’t actually destroy the water it simply changed form. It became vapor.
Likewise (and pardon me - some of this is graphic), but whether a body is buried or cremated, the molecules that make up that body aren’t truly destroyed either way, and God will resurrect those remains when Jesus comes. The bodies of people who died thousands of years ago are now dust, but God will have no problem resurrecting those bodies. The bodies of those martyrs who were burned at the stake will be resurrected by God. The bodies of those lost at sea whose bodies became food for countless fish will be resurrected. Nothing is too difficult for God!
If folks are buried without embalming, the body undergoes relatively rapid decomposition. If embalming takes place, it slows down the decomposition process. If cremation takes place, the decomposition process is accelerated. Regardless, matter is not destroyed it merely changes form and the resurrection will take place either way.
It is my conviction that the decision of burial or cremation is a very personal choice, and I respect whatever a person decides. My father passed away in 2007, and he had chosen cremation. I personally don’t see any problem with that choice from a biblical perspective. However, every person needs to be convinced in his or her own heart, and act according to those convictions.
Most importantly, each of us should search the Scriptures to understand the nature of our bodies, as well as our eternal hope. Here are a few Scriptures that I believe help give us understanding.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.
7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it.
1 Corinthians 15:42-55
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
55 "O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?"