Dust to Dust

  • Question from AH, United Kingdom

    Is there a particularly Christian way of burying our dead? Should it be done the old-fashioned way without cremation, just putting them 6 feet under, or is cremation an OK way to spend your afterlife? Would there be a difference if you cremated someone, ‘urned’ them and dug them down, or just cremated them and scattered the ashes in the wind?

    It used to be that the Christian community insisted on full burial as the only proper way to ensure the glorified resurrection as promised in Scripture. Later, as a means of exerting its power, the established Church insisted that burial should take place in consecrated ground.

    There is no specific means of disposing of a body outlined in the New Testament. Believers will receive new, immortal, perfect bodies upon the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 35-55). While within the early Christian communities burial was presumably the norm, following on from Jewish tradition, Paul makes it quite clear that whatever the eventual fate of the body, the believer has already been ‘buried with Christ’ through the rite of baptism (Romans 6, verse 4, see also Colossians 2, verse 12). This is the death that matters to Paul – the death of the ‘old self’. The resurrection, when it happens, will occur ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ when ‘the dead will be raised imperishable’ (1 Corinthians 15, verse 52).

    In the passage in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul notes that, as with seeds, there is a difference between what is ‘sown’ and what is ‘raised’ and there is also continuity. Wayne Grudem comments: “On this analogy we can say that whatever remains in the grave from our own physical bodies will be taken by God and transformed and used to make a new resurrection body.” [Grudem, Systematic Theology, IVP 1994, p.833] This explains how the sea will ‘give up the dead who are in it’ on judgment day, as described in Revelation chapter 20, verse 13.

    The Bible is quite aware that bodies decompose; dust returning to dust (Genesis 3, verse 19). Yet it would seem that is quite a trivial problem to a God who can take whatever remains and refashion the physical body in a perfect and incorruptible form.

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