Does it matter whether we’re cremated or buried?
Not ultimately, but I don’t ever counsel towards cremation.
An old couple had me over a few weeks ago. He’s pushing ninety, and she’s close behind. And the son was there, and the son said that the reason he wanted me to come was to tell his dad what I think about cremation and burial. (He had heard me talk about it.) So that’s a real situation. The couple is just years away from this, months maybe, who knows.
The son wants to bury his dad, while the dad is thinking that cremation is quick, efficient and cheap. Well, it may not be cheaper. Anyways, here’s the essence of what I said: The biblical pattern is that burning your children is pagan and burying your loved ones is a sign that you believe in the resurrection.
I’m going to encourage people towards burial because of what it says about the body.
The body is precious, and it is going to be raised from the dead. I know it decomposes. I know it’s no more there in a hundred years than if you had burned it. We’re talking about the symbolic significance of a body stretched out in a coffin, looked at, and lovingly kissed and buried, rather than what is to me the horrible prospect of my wife or child or dad being burned, incinerated.
I would have to do a major mental escape in order to keep from feeling like that’s so out of sync with what the body means to God. He created it. He’s going to resurrect it. There’s going to be continuity between what you were and what you are so that we can recognize each other.
You don’t want to symbolically destroy it. You want to symbolically put it to rest, because that’s the language of the Bible: you’re sleeping. Right? “He will waken those who sleep.” “Whether we sleep or wake, we belong to the Lord.”
So the picture of the New Testament is that the dead are asleep. They’re going to be raised from the dead. And they are alive to God.
So I’ve probably overstated my case now and made all the people who have ever cremated feel terribly guilty. I’ll go back and end where I began: it is not ultimately an issue that matters. It doesn’t matter ultimately. It’s just not a custom I think the New Testament would naturally lead us to.
– John Piper
Now, I like John Piper and that is why I went to his website (http://www.desiringgod.org) to seek some guidance, counsel and comfort in my grief…and this is what I found. I don’t know if it is just me but I found it really unsettling and unhelpful to read. It might just be because I chose to have Matthew cremated that it upsets me so much, but it never even crossed my mind that one option would be better than another.
I know that Piper says that it ultimately doesn’t matter…but why would he then go on to say that he would never counsel towards cremation? Does cremation actually associate us with pagan rituals? I don’t think so.
Matt and I happened to talk about whether we wanted to be cremated or buried, and we both decided that cremation was the way to go. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to take up room in the ground and it doesn’t matter what happens to his body when he is dead because he isn’t in it anymore. To me, that made perfect sense. So when he died that’s what I chose. Even though both options are horrific when you are planning to ‘say goodbye’ to your loved one, I personally find comfort in cremation. I don’t know how I would cope knowing that my husband’s body is in the ground decomposing – every day imagining what state it is in. That is horrible. So yes, I am happy with the decision I made, but I am extremely unsettled by these words of Piper’s: We’re talking about the symbolic significance of a body stretched out in a coffin, looked at, and lovingly kissed and buried, rather than what is to me the horrible prospect of my wife or child or dad being burned, incinerated. It makes me feel like he is saying that I didn’t love Matt properly or do the right thing by him.
Anyway, I emailed Piper and asked him to further explain his position and I’m eagerly awaiting his reply.
Well that was pretty morbid, so here’s a picture that I drew. I have been encouraged to do more drawings (as I am clearly very talented in that area), so here is one of Matt:
His knees totally looked like that (no joke)!