A gracEmail reader in Atlanta asks whether cremation is inconsistent with any biblical or Christian principle.
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Throughout recorded history, human beings have generally disposed of the physical remains of their dead either by burying them or by burning them. If oxidized by fire, corpses turn to ashes. If decomposed in the ground, they return to dust of the earth. Ancient Abraham acknowledged this common end of the earthly journey when he said, “I am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27).
Cremation, while not altogether unknown among the ancient Jews or the earliest Christians (1 Sam. 31:11-13), was not commonly practiced — perhaps because death by fire was the prescribed Old Testament punishment for certain heinous crimes (Lev. 20:14; 21:9; Josh. 7:25). Some Christians have opposed cremation because they considered it an impediment to resurrection. However, the God who created all things also easily raises the dead (Rom. 4:17). If he can deliver his people from fire while alive, he can do the same quite handily after they have died (Isa. 43:2; Dan. 3:17, 24-27). Christ’s martyrs are safe in God’s keeping, whether they were beheaded, burned at the stake or eaten by lions (Rev. 6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:32).
Scripture leaves an element of mystery about the resurrection, whether of the saved (unto immortality and eternal life) or of the lost (unto condemnation and the second death.) On the one hand, there will be continuity of identity — we will be ourselves. On the other hand, for the saved at least, the body that is raised will be qualitatively different from the one which had died (1 Cor. 15:41-44; 50-54). Our confidence finally rests not in a scientific explanation, or in metaphysical theories about immortal souls, but in the personal faithfulness of the living God who made us in the first place and in whose keeping we safely sleep until he raises us on the Last Day (Psalm 16:8-11; Dan. 12:2; John 5:28-29).