Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content

The Rev. Christy Thomas: No biblical problems with cremating dead

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I have been reading both sides of the argument and praying about it, and I’m just a little stumped. Is cremation frowned upon?

The opposed side says it’s a desecration of God’s gift to us. We are God’s property and he should choose that. But I don’t see any specific evidence in the Bible that says do not cremate.

God is all powerful and the fact that our bodies are dust, which at some point they become with burial, does not hinder God from giving us a heavenly body or resurrecting us from the dead (also an argument against it).

Anyways I’ve just been going back and forth with the answer. Any advice would be excellent.

 

The Thoughtful Pastor: Societies have long practiced cremation as an acceptable method for marking the end of life. The practice of mummifying, which keeps the body pretty recognizable and somewhat intact for centuries, was available only to the extreme elite in dry climates.

The bodies of the poor have many times been thrown into mass graves within a few hours after death. Those disintegrate rapidly.

The modern-day practice of embalming may preserve the body for several years but it will still inevitably break down into its elements.

As you have noted, the body will return to dust at some point no matter what we do.

When I’m deep in a philosophical fugue, I ponder the fact that our bodies carry elements of other bodies. As physical selves break down, the decomposition feeds the soil.

The enriched soil provides a hospitable place for plant life, which then supports animals that feed off plant life and the insects drawn to it.

In some form or another, those animals/plants/insects may make their way to our tables. Thus we may end up ingesting molecules once belonging to other people.

I’m guessing God can sort all that out in the end.

Having meandered down that cannibalistic path, let me affirm that there are no biblical problems with cremation. The forced cremation of millions of Jews during World War II under the Nazi regime led some to disavow it as a God-honored method because of its connection to genocide.

However, that stigma has faded significantly.

The method used to honor the remains of those who have died is an intensely personal decision and needs to be made with care and thoughtfulness. I urge all adults to give this gift to their loved ones: clearly written-out, end-of-life instructions so as to spare their families the agony of wrestling with decisions like this.

 

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: Does the Bible forbid interracial marriage?

 

The Thoughtful Pastor: Like so many other controversial issues, it all depends on the readers and the preconceived notions that they bring to the text.

Let’s look at Ezra, chapters 9 and 10. This book tells the story of the people of Israel returning to the land after a significant time of exile in Babylon (in modern-day Iraq.)

After working to rebuild the place of worship, it dawns on Ezra that the Israelite men have committed “abominations” by marrying women from the surrounding areas rather than other Israelites.

Ezra decides that those transgressors will have to send away their wives and children to purify the land. While this could be a call to racial purity, it is far more likely that this is a call for religious purity.

The “foreign” women would be bringing their religious customs with them, very likely diluting the unique monotheistic nature of Israelite worship.

Other commands like these found in the Bible portray the Israelites as set-aside people who need to keep their bloodlines pure. Again, it would seem primarily for religious, not racial, reasons.

However we can also read passages like Judges 21 where the marauding Israelite warriors are told they can marry all the virgins after slaughtering the rest of the people in a defeated city. So it’s not all that clear cut.

Turning toward the books written after Jesus lived, we can see where Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6 that people should not be “unequally yoked.” But no racial overtones appear here — only ones of common belief and moral foundations.

In a letter to the Galatians, Paul declares unequivocally that, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

The phrase “no longer Jew or Greek” is a broad statement indicating Christianity transcends all racial boundaries. The letter was clearly addressing serious ethnic, racial and cultural tensions within the community.

Personally, I answer your question with an emphatic “No! The Bible does not forbid interracial marriage,” even though some have asserted that this is the case. Frankly, they are simply wrong, having read their racial prejudices into a racially unprejudiced text.

 

Email questions to the Rev. Christy Thomas to thoughtfulpastor@gmail.com, “like” her Facebook page at Christy Thomas or message her on Twitter at @christythomas, or by mail to: The Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX 76201.