I found out the hard way last summer as I preached on the topic of cremation versus a bodily burial that it is a topic of contention. In his book Becoming Worldly Saints, Michael Wittmer adds more to the topic. Please read this, along with the few remarks that I’ll have afterward. This is an important topic that I really believe we need to sort through and think through before we make any conclusions.
Whenever I speak on death and resurrection, someone usually asks whether it is okay to use cremation. I say it depends. We’re not making God’s job impossibly difficult when we choose cremation, because we know he will resurrect millions of people who have died in fires, been digested by animals, or decomposed all the way to nothing. It depends on our motive. We might choose cremation to honor the person. The proper way to dispose of an old flag is not to throw it in the trash but to burn it. Just so, we might cremate our loved one as the ultimate sign of respect. We might also do it to save space (as is common in China) or money (as is common in West Michigan), and this is fine too.
However, we should never choose cremation because we think the body of our loved one is unimportant. Their dead body is not merely the shell that once housed their true self. This is a Platonic, pagan view that I have argued against throughout this book. That body in the casket matters enough to God that he has centered the entire Christian hope upon its resurrection. That body is a vital part of our loved one, and we should handle it as those who plan to see it again.
We should also keep the ashes of our loved one together. When we scatter them across their favorite lake or patch of grass, we are unwisely depicting a pantheistic worldview in which humans are one with nature. We’re not. We are uniquely made in the image of God, and we must preserve that honor even in death. When we place their urn in a cemetery or columbarium, we treat our beloved with the dignity that humans deserve. And that place becomes resurrection ground (pp. 170-71).
Wittmer makes a strong point. Yes, I know that cremation saves land and costs less, but let’s make sure that we see some value in the body even after the soul has departed. And as I said in the sermon linked to above, should someone come and tell me that they’ve thought long and prayed hard and that cremation is their option, I will walk with them through that decision and chapter as their pastor, honoring their decision. My aim as always been to help every decision be as biblically and prayerfully informed as possible.
The body is important, even in death.