Faith

Is Cremation a Pagan Practice Which Christians Should Avoid?

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Oh, you’re going to cremate your deceased loved one? Did you know that’s how the pagans do it? Christians bury their dead.

How’s that for some good old-fashioned moralizing judgment? It comes from an op-ed by Christian Post contributor Eric Metaxas. He writes:

This suspicion [of the cremation practice] goes back to the early Church. It was pagans who burned their dead, a practice that the early Church saw as consistent with “the pagan denial of Christian beliefs about the afterlife, especially the belief in the resurrection of the dead.”

“In contrast,” Chuck [Colson] told [BreakPoint] listeners, “Christians buried their dead. Christian teaching about Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection led them to treat the human body with respect.”

It’s why the vast majority of the artwork in the catacombs depicted Christ’s resurrection or Old Testament types, especially Jonah and the great fish.

The word Christians used for the place where they buried their dead was koimeterion, the Greek word for “bedroom” and “resting place,” from which we get “cemetery.” Thus even our language reflects Christian ideas about death and burial.

The ongoing discussion within the church, attempting to define and clarify the Christian worldview, is a healthy one. Sometimes, however, it goes off the rails. This view of cremation presents an example.

We’re supposed to bury the dead because God — the eternal being who spoke the universe into creation from nothing — can’t work with ashes? Are we pretending that bodies buried do not decompose and disperse, that they are somehow better situated for resurrection if embalmed and deposited in a vault?

This is a view that limits God and attempts to credit man with some role in his work. What we do with our dead, we do for ourselves, to pay our respects in a manner most consistent with our loved one’s wishes and our own process of grief. It has nothing whatsoever to do with preparing for, or somehow enabling, the resurrection.

God can work from nothing. He doesn’t need our bodies, preserved or otherwise. Indeed, as much as Metaxas claims that burial treats the human body with respect, I would claim that cremation glorifies God by expressing our faith in his unlimited power. He raised us from nothing to start with. He can raise us from nothing again.