For years, you’ve probably heard people say, “I don’t care what you do with my body; I’ll be in heaven, so just throw me in a ditch somewhere.” However, is it true? Does the Bible say our bodies don’t matter? Nowadays, more families are choosing the cremation route over burial, but that wasn’t always the case. Now, it’s less common to have a traditional burial.
Statistics also prove this theory. In 2006, 33 percent of bodies were cremated. In 2021, that number increased to 57.5 percent. Does this matter from the viewpoint of a biblical worldview? Is there a preferred burial method? There are various burial alternatives, as one site listed 23 different options. There are incredibly creative ways to handle a body. You can even be turned into a firework. Still, these non-creative or creative options can be categorized into four main options.
In-ground is the “traditional” burial method, at least in the United States. This option includes a traditional casket, burial six feet under, and a headstone. This method also includes the practices of other places worldwide that might use vaults or a cave, anything where a body is stowed away in the ground. Though technically not in-ground, some countries will wrap the body and put it into trees. For example, there are also cliffside burials by Oceanic peoples.
Turn to ashes.
The most common form is cremation, where the body is exposed to extreme heat and turned to ashes. Other methods are used today, such as resomation, a chemical process called alkaline hydrolysis, where they use water instead of fire. However, the result is the same. This category also includes dissolution, or breaking down the body through chemicals, and promession, or frozen in liquid nitrogen and turned into powder. These processes lead to the body breaking down into ash or a powdery substance. At this point, what happens to the ashes opens the door to other creative options.
In many countries, this isn’t a legal option, but some places will expose the body to the elements and let scavengers and animals dispose of the body. You could also put this category as being buried at sea and the costly option of being attached to a rocket and launched into space.
For this option, think of a mummy. This was a way to preserve a body. Being cryogenically frozen would also fall into this classification. Some may prefer to have their body preserved for religious reasons, but this is a way of preserving it for scientific reasons, hoping that science will get to a place where the person could be regenerated one day. You could also put donating the body to science in this category. Plastination, where the body is turned into a plastic mannequin for educational purposes, can also fall into this category. Still, does it matter which one you choose? Does the Bible speak positively of one of these options or the other?
Is there a biblical way to dispose of a body?
When applying the scriptures today, it’s essential to note the difference between prescriptive and descriptive events in the Bible. It’s one thing to acknowledge that people in the Bible were buried one way in the Bible, but it’s another to say that we should be buried the same way. The Bible can describe an event, but that doesn’t mean it’s prescriptive, meaning you must do it this way. A society’s burial custom often reflects its spiritual views about death and the afterlife.
For example, Egyptians had elaborately furnished tombs because they believed physical activities would continue in the afterlife. Hebrew people thought there was more of a spiritual connection and fellowship with the generation that had gone before, which is why burial plots were typically tied to familial locations. During biblical times, the standard form of burial was to use a cave, tomb, or the ground to dispose of the human body.
The traditional burial of a vault, a casket six feet under, wasn’t how bodies were buried during biblical times. Typically, the dead of the wealthy were placed in above-ground tombs, and the poor were buried in the ground. It’s also worth noting that the most common Jewish burial technique was storing the body away in a tomb for the body to decompose. The bones were taken and stored in a casket when that process was finished. This practice, which restored the individual identity of the dead, reflects a belief in the resurrection of the dead.
What does all of this mean? It means there is some divergence in the practice of how a body was disposed of. There are apparent differences in practices and beliefs as well. What we think about why we’re doing something seems more important than the action itself. The Bible indicates that the preferred burial method saves the person’s unique identity, and the act of disposition/burial is to be done in the hopes of resurrection.
Does it matter what we do with our bodies after we die?
You can reject intentional exposure as a biblical practice for body disposal. It seems that such an act denies the importance of the body. There’s a sacred aspect to the human body. Exposure is typically seen as a sign of judgment. To intentionally do this seems to deny the body’s importance. Likewise, preserving the body seems to also be a denial of the reality of death and the transformation and resurrection of our bodies. Most people are hard-pressed to see how preservation could be done in hopes of resurrection.
It seems more like hanging on to the “old man” than planting hopes of the new. Does an in-ground burial accomplish these purposes? Not necessarily, but can you do this with cremation? Possibly. In part, cremation is a speeding up of the natural process. Christians must decide if they believe that process is inherently wrong. Again, the critical thing is why we’re doing something.
Typically, cremation is done due to economic reasons. A traditional burial funeral can be five to ten times more expensive than a cremation and a memorial service, so many choose this method. Others choose cremation for reasons of creation care, which must also be considered. It matters what we do with our body after death because what we do is an image of what we believe about the hope of resurrection.