Two weeks before my mother died from smoke inhalation in a house fire in 2008, she told the family for the umpteenth time she wanted to be cremated.
Ten months later my father suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack entering a gas station and he too was cremated. Two weeks later and my only sister died from a stroke followed by a massive heart attack and was also cremated. I must admit as a youth I imagined myself shedding tears over family graves with headstones and flowers.
I was also under the impression that graves somehow implied people would one day be called by Jesus to come out of them, while burning bodies in some way suggested they were forever gone. I was wrong.
That erroneous view may have been influenced by my reading too much into the Bible’s reference to an historical garbage dump south of Jerusalem which was used as the incinerator for the disposal of waste called Gehenna, meaning the “Valley of Hinnom.”
Although Jeremiah 7:30-32 and 2Kings 23:10 shows this valley was used at one time to offer child sacrifices by fire to the false god Molech, by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth it had been converted into a garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem.
Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, Volume 1, explains: “It became the common lay-stall (garbage dump) of the city, where the dead bodies of criminals, and the carcasses of animals, and every other kind of filth was cast.” No live creatures, however, were cast in Gehenna.
Jesus often spoke of Gehenna, translated “hellfire” in many Bible translations. Its literal fires were kept burning by sulfur or brimstone as dead carcasses and other waste were thrown into it and destroyed.
With that image of cremation, you might see why I initially had a problem with it. To this day, some people feel cremation somehow dishonors the memory of the dead person while others believe cremation is a dignified way of disposing of human remains. What do you think?
While both burials and the burning of dead bodies are mentioned in the Bible, the real question is whether or not cremation is truly condemned by God. There is one Bible account that can help us with this question.
It is the account when the Philistines defeated Israelite King Saul in battle and 1Samuel 31:2 says “Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab and Malkishua, Saul’s sons.
What happened to their bodies? According to 1Samuel 31:8-10, the Philistines fastened their bodies to the city wall in a celebration of their victory.
Then 1Samuel 31:11-12 reports, “Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and traveled all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan; and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. — New King James Version.
Although King Saul died in God’s disfavor, his son Jonathan was not a bad person. Jonathan was David’s close friend and a loyal supporter of God’s choice of David as King. Still, his body was burned. How did David react when he learned about this “cremation?”
According to 2Samuel 2:5-6, David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh Gilead and blessed them, adding, “I also will repay you this kindness, because you have done this thing.”
Why would David praise and thank these people if burning their bodies was undignified or condemned by God? Does cremation interfere with Jehovah God’s Word at Genesis 3:19, “For dust you are and to dust you will return?”
Besides, when we think about the promise at Revelation 20:13 that “The sea gave up the dead which were in it,” wouldn’t that include people devoured by sharks and other sea creatures over centuries of time?
Does it make any difference to the Almighty if a person’s body is burned, buried, lost at sea, vaporized by an atomic explosion or eaten by wild animals? You decide.
But the Bible gives us no specific directions as to what should be done with the bodies of the dead. It does not condemn cremation which millions have found to be not only cost-effective, but efficient and environmentally friendly when compared to the chemicals used in modern-day embalming.
I suppose both burials and cremations have their benefits depending on what you want. Do you know what you want? What I really want is to see my family again. Don’t you? Jesus said at John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
Now, that’s a promise that will never go up in smoke.
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