Modesty Defeats Zeal

John Piper whose earnestness has been known to tighten jaws knocks it out of the park on cremation (via Challies):

The body is good:

First, biblical faith, unlike Greek religion, does not view the body as the prison of the soul. So the afterlife has never been viewed as the “immortality of the soul” finally liberated from its physical prison. Rather, Christianity has always viewed the body as essential to full humanity so that the life to come has primarily been seen as the resurrection of the body in glorious eternal life. Paul did not consider the intermediate bodiless state, between death and resurrection, as ideal (2 Corinthians 5:4).

Burning bodies is bad (anyone remember Germany?):

The use of fire to consume the human body on earth was seen as a sign of contempt. It was not a glorious treatment of the body but a contemptuous one. This is the meaning of Achan’s cremation. He had betrayed Israel and so was not only stoned with his family, but deprived of an ordinary burial by being burned.

Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” And all Israel stoned him with stones. They burned them with fire and stoned them with stones. (Joshua 7:25)

Funerals are expensive (so are weddings so we should encourage “cake & punch” receptions):

I am encouraging churches to cultivate a Christian counter-culture where people expect simple, less expensive funerals and burials, and where we all pitch in so that a Christian burial is not a financial hardship on anyone. And because of the biblical pointers and the additional reasons above, I am arguing that God-centered, gospel-rooted burial is preferable to cremation. Preferable. Not commanded, but rich with Christian truth that will become a clearer and clearer witness as our society becomes less and less Christian.

Without the zeal, Mr. Piper does okay.

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.

Will Rob Bell Be Cremated?

Glancing through Diarmaid MacCulloch’s three-thousand year history of Christianity, I noticed an astute point by the author. It is the inverse relationship that exists in the contemporary setting between churches teaching about hell and churches opposing cremation.

It is observable that certain aspects of the Christian past are being jettisoned without fuss even within self-consciously traditional religion. The most notable casualty of the past century has been Hell. It has dropped out of Christian preaching or much popular concern, first among Protestants, then later among Catholics, who have also ceased to pay much attention to that aspect of Western doctrine which seemed all-consuming in the Latin Church on the eve of the Reformation, Purgatory. (1012)

MacCulloch goes on:

A particularly suprising development in Christianity, admittedly so far noticeable mainly in the West, is the abandonment of a key aspect of Christian practice since its early days, inhumation of corpses. As hellfire receded, there advanced the literal fires of the crematorium; such fire, previously reserved by Christians for heretics, now routinely forms the liturgical climax to encomia of the good things in the life of the deceased. (1013)

One last point that MacCulloch makes is that cremation took root in the West among liberal Italian nationalists who were often forbidden from being buried in church graveyards. Cremation as such was a gesture of anti-clericalism.

Not sure I have much of a point here except to recover reasons against cremation.

Common Sense Burial

Does the Bible require that when Christians die their bodies should be buried? An article over at Front Porch Republic makes a pretty good case for the Christian practice of burial, along with the not so felicitous implication that cremation is of pagan derivation. But we have no explicit instruction from Scripture, only examples. According to Andrew Harvey:

Our burning discussion keeps returning to the word “tradition.” And most Christian churches . . . had no established doctrine to address the issue of modern cremation. The only fact was convention: Christians simply had never cremated before. But burial is indisputably the rule throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. God’s people in every covenant prefer interment. Everyone on God’s side gets buried eventually. From Adam to the Beloved Disciple John every saint who falls asleep in the Lord finds a grave as a bed. (Moreover, cremation is reserved in the Old Testament for the wicked and apostate: see Josh. 7:25, 2 Kgs. 23:20, Amos 2:1.) The only time where one of the Lord’s anointed is unfortunately cremated (King Saul, defiled by the Philistines) – it is through burial that his remains finally rest in peace. Additionally this hard and fast “orthopraxy” also correlates to a theology, an “orthodoxia.”

In the Gospels the burials of John the Baptist and Jesus allude to a new meaning for burial—baptism. Christ’s burial and resurrection are the physical, material, corporeal events that reveal the typology of Passover: Christ becomes our Passover because when we are baptized we are buried in his death and rise from the waters in newness of life having been set free from our spiritual Egypt—the bondage of sin and death—and set into our Promised Land of righteousness.

Of course, this does not add up to a slam dunk of the good and necessary variety. I am not sure that one can actually be made. Nor do I think cremation makes any sense as a fitting way to treat the human body. (My wife and I even refused to cremate our beloved cat.)

Here’s an example I once used on friends at Touchstone. If we wanted to save room on the planet by disposing of bodies in more efficient ways, we could always chop of the remains of the deceased so that we could actually fit more bodies into a cemetery. I suspect that most people would find repugnant the idea of having a spouse, or parent, or sibling cut up for any reason, efficiency likely several rungs down on the rationale ladder. So why would incinerating a body be any less offensive?

So could it be that the light of nature is clear even where Scripture refuses to say “thou shalt” (or for the King James challenged, “you should”)?