(This was written in response to a question about final arrangements and cremation.)
It is good to talk about wills and final arrangements ahead of time, and it is especially good to do so when everyone is feeling fine and the sun is shining. It is part of the stewardship of the life that God has given to us.
Regarding cremation, our Church does not have an official position on the matter. And if you talk to two different pastors you could get two different answers. But all Christians should agree that we believe in the resurrection of the dead. We are looking forward to that day when Jesus will return to this earth in a visible form and everyone will be raised from the dead. Believers will be raised to eternal life with Jesus. Those who do not believe will be raised to suffer an eternal existence apart from God. The new bodies that we will be given will be different from the ones that we have now in that the laws of time and space we experience here will no longer apply to us. Our new bodies will never grow old, never get sick and never die. Yet our new bodies will somehow share a one to one identity with our old body. Perhaps Jesus, in a miraculous way, will reconstitute the molecules of our old body into a new transformed body. After all, the God who spoke all of creation into existence with a word could easily do that.
Therefore, how we treat the body of a dead person is significant and the reasons behind our decisions are even more important. If we are choosing cremation because we don’t believe in the resurrection, or because we want to make a statement against the resurrection, then there is a serious problem with what we think and believe. If we believe in the resurrection, and yet we choose cremation for other reasons (eg. to save money [which is may or may not happen with cremation], to take up less land, to facilitate burial in a place some distance away, etc.) then I believe that we have the Christian freedom to choose cremation.
I have not decided to choose cremation for myself, but I have instructed my wife not to spend any more money than she needs to to bury me, and she has said the same to me.
There are three other things that are very important when considering final arrangements: 1. organ donation, 2. a Health Care Directive, and 3. a Christian Preamble. If you or your spouse would like your organs donated, you need to talk about that decision with each other and with your children. You could put it into a will, but by the time that your wishes would be made known, it would be too late to donate your organs.
A Health Care Directive gives direction to your family about your care should you become incapacitated and unable to communicate your wishes. The things to remember here are: 1. every human life is a precious gift from God, and 2. there comes a time when each of us must die. Therefore we should not be ending life prematurely, and every human being should be receiving the care they need, including management of their pain. And yet, it is also true that we should not be playing God and extending life using heroic means when the patient is obviously in the final stages of the dying process. There is a copy of a Health Care Directive in a separate post.
You will is your last chance to give a witness to your Christian faith, and so using a Christian preamble enables you to do that. There is also a copy of a Christian preamble in a separate post.
Like I said earlier, having conversations about these things ahead of time can be very, very helpful. When someone is dying or has died, it is a very stressful time, but if your family knows your wishes when that time comes, as it will for us all, then that can reduce some of the stress. Also, from what I have observed in other families, it would be good to talk to your adult children ahead of time about organ donation, your Health Care Directive and your will. Most people do not talk to their children about their wills before hand, and then, when death comes and the will is read, they are sometimes hurt when their expectations are not met. And often there is no explanation of why things are being distributed the way that they are. So sometimes it results in a fight and a family that used to have excellent relationships with each other now no longer speaks to one another. And the upset children no longer have the opportunity to ask their parent why they are arranging things the way that they are.
I like the way that one of my pastors did it. He told all of his kids that he would help them get through school but they should not expect anything from his estate, the last surviving spouse was going to give it all away. What he has done by doing that is dealt with their expectations ahead of time so no one should have a surprise or be upset. They know his wishes.
This might be a longer answer than what you were expecting but I hope that it is helpful.
Hello Pastor, interesting article!
Regarding cremation, I will be posting some more-thought-out thoughts on a future blog post. However, as Christians who believe in the Resurrection of the BODY (not “the dead”) as a pillar of our faith, I find it completely and utterly bewildering that we would willingly choose cremation. If our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, fearfully and wonderfully made, why would we burn it? We wouldn’t burn it when alive, why when dead? Further, what indication we have from Scripture telling us that the Holy Spirit departs the body when the human soul does?
We live in a throw away society – not helped by thinking individual communion cups are a fitting vessel to give contour to the blood of Christ! Cremation, when you consider the pagan origins and how the current thinking of the body is “it doesn’t matter, it’s just stuff” should be avoided and taught against in full measure. We don’t just throw the body away. We care for it and treat it with the utmost respect.
And, it’s not cheaper than casket burial! The Christian Funeral is the last chance one has to give witness to the Resurrection of Christ and His Church. It is fitting that there be a BODY there to give that witness. 🙂
Hadn’t really given much thought to a Christian perspective on cremation, but it seems like a non-issue to me. Whether I am in the ground decaying to dust or have accelerated the process with cremation, my God is able to put it all back together with a breath. He formed Adam from the dust; I have no doubt he could re-form me.
I find it much better than the thought of filling my body up with chemicals to slow its decay or making any assumption that will stay together for the next 10, 100 or 1000 years till Jesus returns.
I am all for organ donation as well. But does that not open up another issue about what happens when my organs are working away in someone else when it comes time for the resurrection of the dead? Kind of a “did Adam and Eve have navels?” kind of question I think…
Thanks for the posts!