What Would Jesus Do?

Don’t bake those remains. Bury them.

. . . my postmortem body continues to embody memories of who I am. Let’s say that death has come calling for me. What will my wife and children, my parents and sister, see when they see me? They’ll see the man whom they still love. They will not see a shell, an empty husk. My wife will see the face of the man who stood before her and vowed, “I do.” My children will see the hands that held them on the day they were born, and that wiped away their tears when they hurt themselves. My parents will see a scar on my right wrist that I got when barely out of kindergarten. Much of my biography is inscribed upon my body; it is part of who I am, my story, my personality. It is not peripheral to my personhood. A body is not some thing but some one. As such, I want my family to treat my body not as an object I sloughed off upon leaving this world, but as the continuing, meaningful icon of my identity as son, father, and husband. To treat my body with respect, love, and honor is to treat me with respect, love, and honor, for my body continues to be an essential part of who I am.

If this were the sole reason for us to care what happens to our corpses, it would be sufficient. But for those who hold to a theistic worldview, who believe that God created our bodies, there are many more reasons to care. Jews and Christians alike confess that the Creator makes and shapes our bodies from the moment of conception onward. In the words of Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Our very existence is a divine gift; and part of that gift are eyes of a certain color, legs of a certain length, a nose of a certain size—each tiny part of us uniquely fashioned as our own. Our body is a gift while also a continued possession of the Giver. It is not ours to do with as we please.

What we do with these gifts should reflect that they are from God. And what applies when those bodies are alive applies equally when they are not alive. Death does not disown God from our bodies. They continue to be his possession, his gift to us, part of that divine bestowal that marks who we are as created people formed in God’s image and likeness. Thus, even when I’m dead, my corpse matters, because God’s gifts matter. I want my body to be treated not as a piece of meat, or fuel for the fire, but as a blessing from heaven.

28 thoughts on “What Would Jesus Do?

  1. Yes and no. Yes, the body is part of who we are, so it should be treated with dignity. But it’s not all of who we are, and to gaze upon an inanimate body is vastly different than gazing upon the whole person. Better to retain the memory of the whole person than the memory of a body made to look like the whole person. Sometimes the closer artifice gets to the real thing the more off-putting it is.


  2. The thing about your burial—it’s not something you do, but others have to do for you. Burial is like imputation, not something you do for yourself.

    And what if these others don’t share your w-w?

    Job 19: 25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    And He shall stand at last on the earth;
    26 And after my body is completely destroyed, I know,
    That in my flesh I shall see God,
    27 Whom I shall see for myself,
    And my eyes shall behold, and not another.

    For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
    he suffered death and was buried.
    On the third day he rose again
    in accordance with the Scriptures;
    he ascended into heaven
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    but He will come to earth again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
    and his kingdom will have no end


  3. Acts 13: 35 Therefore David says also in another psalm,
    “‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’
    36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and did see corruption, 37 but he whom God raised up did NOT see corruption.

    Psalm 16: I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
    9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
    10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.
    11 You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


  4. DGH: I’m in favor of preserving the body (“yes,”‘ dignity) and against exhibiting the inanimate body.
    For me: whole body in a closed casket.


  5. Isaiah 9: 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
    and every garment rolled in blood
    will be burned as fuel for the fire.

    The increase of Christ’s government will be the destruction of all other powers

    I Cor 15: 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy is death.

    follow the pronouns


  6. Genesis 50 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. 2 And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. 3 Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

    4 And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, 5 ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” 6 And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” 7 So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, 8 as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. 9 And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. 14 After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt with his brothers and all who had gone up with him to bury his father.


  7. DGH, I suppose I should use more words.

    I appreciate that you visit this topic from time to time since it’s often avoided. This reminds me of a documentary (Chorts, don’t give it away, I’m trying to look deep here) that includes a rural family in China whose courtyard was dominated by a coffin under construction. The male of the house would continue to work on it much like some Americans work on restoring old automobiles. It was intended for the woman of the house, who was not at all offended by seeing a reminder of her eventual death so prominently displayed.

    I’m persuaded that it’s important to promote Christian symbolism in maintaining the integrity of the body. Therefore I don’t support cremation. What does not persuade me is in the following:
    my postmortem body continues to embody memories of who I am. Let’s say that death has come calling for me. What will my wife and children, my parents and sister, see when they see me? They’ll see the man whom they still love. They will not see a shell, an empty husk. My wife will see the face of the man who stood before her and vowed…

    This is an argument not simply for retaining the body but for displaying it. This is where I part ways because, although there is a significant continuity between a person and his inanimate body, there is also important discontinuity. You are not looking at the whole person – you are looking at part of the person. This is not a trivial change. You can dress up the body and apply blush but you will not succeed in bringing animation to the body. The characteristic expressions, body movements, eye contact, confidence or lack thereof exhibited in a living person are gone. To gaze upon the lifeless body is not qualitatively close to interacting with the whole living person. This is so much the case that you get a false impression from looking upon the lifeless body and that final impression is so intense and disturbing that it will likely displace truer memories of the whole person.

    So I favor a maintaining the whole body in a closed casket. Hope this is more clear.


  8. Great article at federalist, and convo here. I’m so with dg and mg.

    (all about) I experienced the open coffin experience at age 9. Not a fan of open coffin, but I’m not scarred for life.

    I’ll request mine be closed for my funeral.



  9. What Jesus did was die. Then Jesus was raised from the dead.

    Isaiah 53: 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
    and made his soul an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
    the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
    11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
    12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
    BECAUSE he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
    yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

    Acts 2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
    or let your Holy One see corruption.
    28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
    29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did NOT ascend into the heavens

    Ezekiel 18—the soul that sins shall die.


  10. Mike Horton– here at his friend’s tomb-even moments before he knew he would raise Lazarus, we see his anguish in the presence of sin’s most gruesome banner: death. He did not come with a cheerful homily on how better off Lazarus was now that he had “slipped the bonds of earth” or “sloughed off his mortal coil,” for these are pagan views .

    There was no “celebration,” where mourning was considered out of place. Already emotionally unhinged by Mary’s weeping at his feet, Jesus came to the tomb, and we read those two words that deserve their own verse: “Jesus wept” (v. 35). The bystanders were not sure what to make of it. “See how he loved him!” said some. “But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’” (v. 37).

    But let’s pause for a moment at the remarkable report, “Jesus wept.” Jesus here overthrows the various pagan conceptions of life and death that are as prevalent in our day: stoicism and sentimentalism. Some influences are more Stoic in orientation. Famous for the stiff upper lip, the ancient Stoics believed that the best souls were those who were completely free of emotion. Stirred neither by friendship nor treachery, the Stoic aimed at perfect rest. If one depended on others, he or she would soon be disappointed. In order to avoid disappointment, one should resolve never to develop attachments, except to oneself. Utter freedom from desire would make the soul a fortress against distress. For them, as for Greek thought generally, death was a liberation from the body, which was after all the seat of emotion-that weak part of human nature that would drag the soul down into the messiness of the world. By contrast, Westerners such as myself are often astonished to the point of embarrassment to witness Jews and Palestinians mourning their dead with wails and desperate gestures, but this is the culture from which Jesus came and he was not embarrassed by it.

    …Although sentimentalism seems like the opposite of stoicism, they share some intriguing parallels. They both seem intent on avoiding the messiness of life-particularly, the tragic aspect. They want to ignore the bad news, although their solution is different. While the Stoic realizes that to abandon negative emotions one must banish all emotions, the sentimentalist believes in admitting only the good emotions, always looking on the bright side of life.

    One sympathy card I saw has a line from Thoreau: “Every blade in the field, every leaf in the forest, lays down its life in its season as beautifully as it was taken up.” Even more troubling was the maxim of my father’s convalescent hospital that was unfortunately enshrined in giant tapestries hanging in various parts of the complex. With scenes from childhood to old age, walking toward a sunset, it read, “The setting of the sun is as beautiful as its rising.” I wondered at how offensive this must have been to many who were suffering there, as their lot was trivialized.

    Compare for just a moment any experience you might have had with the joy of childbirth, family and friends standing around to celebrate this new life, with the declining years, months, and days of a person’s life. One stage is full of hope in a way that the other simply cannot be made to be. . One attracts visitors, family, and friends who cannot keep themselves from holding and doting on the little ones, while the other draws visits more often than not out of a sense of duty.

    We often hear, “Death is a natural part of life.” This assumes the “cycle of life” approach to reality. According to this picture, life and death are just two sides of the same coin. However, the biblical picture could not be more opposite: life everlasting was the goal of creation in the beginning; death is the curse for human sin. It is part of the Fall imposed on humanity as a result of disobedience, not an inevitable circumstance to be taken in stride. Death stands against God, against the world, against life, against hope, against possibilities.

    So now we return to Jesus as he crumples at his friend’s grave: “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb” (v. 38). Look at Jesus’ face, hear his scream here. “Deeply moved” hardly captures the emotion of the original language:enebrimesato, meaning to snort like a horse in anger; “troubled,” etaraxen, meaning agitated, confused, disorganized, fearful, surprised, as when Herod was “troubled” by the wise men (Matt. 2:3); or when the disciples were “troubled” and “cried out in fear” when Jesus walked on the sea (Matt. 14:27). Jesus now found himself overtaken by grief. More than grief, in fact: anger. And why not? There he stood face to face with “the last enemy” he would defeat in his crusade against Satan. And he “wept.”

    The marvel in this scene is that Jesus responds thus even though he knows that he will shortly raise Lazarus from the dead. One would expect his countenance to reveal a knowing grin that invites the crowd to anticipate his miracle, but all it shows is anguish. How much more are we allowed to weep when such an interval exists between the death of loved ones and the final Resurrection! Theologically, it is the appropriate response to death-not simply because of our own sense of loss or our mourning for the survivors who are dear to us, but because of the loss to the beloved who has died. We do not grieve “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13), but we do grieve.

    Death is not a benign passageway to happiness, but a horrible enemy attempting to keep us in the grave. Death’s sting has been removed, but its bite remains. It does not have the last word for believers, but it remains the believer’s antagonist until the Resurrection of the body. The good news is never that one has died, but that death has been ultimately conquered by the Lord of Life.

    Martha trusted Jesus when she moved the stone at his command. Perhaps she had even heard and recalled Jesus’ promise, “For the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth” (John 5:28). Jesus’ own Resurrection will be the “first fruits of those who sleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), but this resurrection of Lazarus is in a sense the prelude to that great inauguration of the last day. This is the climactic sign because “the last enemy is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).

    The good news in all of this is that “the last enemy is death.” This means that Jesus accomplished everything in his mission on earth for our complete redemption and glorification. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” That is the bad news. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56).

    Death is not a portal to life. Death is not a benign friend, but a dreaded foe. It is not a natural part of life, but the most unnatural part of life you could imagine. But in his death and Resurrection, Jesus crushed the serpent’s head, vanquishing the “last enemy” of every believer. This last enemy will one day be overcome for believers in the final resurrection of the dead, but that is because it has already objectively been vanquished in the Resurrection of our Living Head. In Christ, the end has already begun. The Head will not live without his body. The shape of the future is already present.

    Lazarus was raised, but he died. His body thus raised for a time continued where it left off in its surrender to decay and death. One day, mourners would gather again at Lazarus’ tomb, but this time with no expectation of resurrection until the last day. And yet, precisely because of that confidence, precisely because Lazarus’ next funeral occurred this side of Christ’s resurrection, they would not mourn that day as those with no hope. After all, word would have reached them by then-perhaps some of them had even been witnesses-of the greater Resurrection of Jesus himself, which would take a stand against death on its own territory, so that those united to him by faith will not remain dead. Their bodies will be raised to worship in God’s renewed sanctuary.

    Death is still an enemy, not a friend, but it is “the last enemy,” and it is already defeated so that now death is not God’s judgment upon us for our sin but the temporal effects of our participation in Adam’s guilt. And because the guilt and judgment are removed, we can both cry out with our Lord in troubled anger at death and yet also sing with the Apostle, “Where O death is your sting? Where O hell is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). What we need again is a church that can sing the blue note in a way that faces the real world honestly and truthfully, recognizing the tragic aspect of life as even more tragic than any nihilist could imagine, while knowing that the one who raised Lazarus is now raised to the right hand of his Father, until all enemies-including death, lie in the rubble beneath his feet.



  11. The biggest benefit that the little town that we lived in for 9 years offered is a nice cemetery. It sits on the edge of town alongside a nice highway that runs alongside a river for several miles. Flat and scenic. I enjoyed the drive to work on that road for those 9 years. My wife’s grandpa is buried in that cemetery (although he was not from there). I think that is where I would like to be buried, too. I’ve never warmed up to my hometown cemetery.

    Hopefully it’s just a temporary accomodation.


  12. Zrim, this thread is about death, not logic. Please post on this thread only after reading my 100k word tome and 3000 comments, or else your comments will not be approved. In the peace of Hal9000, the Dude wannabe.


  13. More circulariousitatiousness, Z, but worth reading

    Justin, it is a bit different than that. We begin with God. We don’t presume God exists because the Bible is true. We presume the Bible is true because God exists.

    That is, to be sure, based on a circularity. Yet this is not a fatal flaw. Any argument concerning the essential nature of anything/everything must by definition be premised on something that then is presupposed to prove all else, including that which affirms that the initial presupposition is true.

    This is simply the nature of our existence. The problem is not circularity, but whether or not the initial/foundational presupposition is true. By definition, such a presupposition cannot be empirically validated. Verified as credible, reasonable? Yes, but never objectively proven beyond any shadow of doubt.

    This necessity of circularity in the initial/foundational presupposition does not leave us without a true knowing the truth of the presupposition. Knowing is not solely through empirical considerations. Indeed, the Bible’s basis for knowing truth truly is relational based, not empirically based.

    The basis is not we know him because the Bible tells us so, and it can be (empirically) proven. The Bible teaches that we know Him because He knows us, i.e., He enters into a real relationship with us.

    This is why the ministry of the gospel is never “positively” proving anything about God.* Instead it is declaring what is true, and leaving the issue of proof up to the subjective work of the Spirit of truth.

    Hope I’m a bit clearer than mud here. Thanks for the prompting to think.

    *I.e., biblical apologetics is defense oriented, the demonstration of the failure of arguments against biblical arguments. Logically disproving a challenge does not prove that which is challenged.



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