As a pastor, I often receive questions about cremation. Interestingly, these questions have become more common in recent years than they were when I first became a pastor. Early in my ministry, I rarely had questions about cremation, but in recent years, I’ve noticed a perpetual uptick in the questions and practice.
For years the practice of cremation has been debated. To bury or to burn? So, is cremation sinful? I don’t think it’s sinful. However, before you sell your burial plots and pick out a nice urn for your ashes, I would take time to think about the idea of cremation from a distinctly Christian worldview.
The Christian Practice of Burial
We read in Genesis 15, God spoke to Abram in a dream and informed him about the Egyptian captivity, the land of promise, and then spoke of Abram’s burial (Gen. 15:15). As we continue to read through the Old Testament, we see Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and according to Scripture, he “buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 23:19). When it came time for Abraham to die, Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 25:9). Likewise, Jacob buried Rachel on the way to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19–20) and Joseph made his sons promise to bury his bones in the land of Israel (Gen. 50:25; Exod. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).
The fact is, from the earliest roots of Christianity, the children of God have always buried their loved ones. They viewed the body to be sacred and they likewise believed in the resurrection. It’s not that the body doesn’t decay and that God isn’t able to resurrect ashes sprinkled in the dirt or the sea, but that the body was created by God and is sacred. According to Francis Schaeffer, if you wanted to trace the spread of Christianity across the Greco-Roman world, you could do it by focusing on the burial practices of the people. According to Schaeffer, “the Romans burned their dead, the Christians buried theirs.” 
The Rabbis of Judaism viewed the practice of burning a corpse as an idolatrous practice and often would not officiate a funeral of someone who chose cremation rather than burial. As we survey the New Testament, we see that Lazarus was buried. Jesus appeared at his tomb and that’s where the resurrection took place. When Jesus spoke to Lazarus’ sister, she spoke of her hope in the future resurrection (John 11:23-25). She had no idea that Jesus would resurrect her brother on that particular day. We also must note that when Jesus died, He was buried – not cremated. There was this forward looking aspect of resurrection for the Christian who buried their loved ones in Christ.
The History of Burning the Body
Pagans often burned corpses for various reasons. For some, it was a common practice of burial. The Greeks and Romans practiced cremation as a normal and preferred practice for their dead. They likewise opposed Christianity and viewed it as a weak religion. To them, the gospel was utter foolishness. For others, it was a practice of pagan worship. The cult of Moloch was practiced by child sacrifice which involved passing the child through the fire (Lev. 18:21, 20:2–4; Deut. 18:10).
Beyond the time period of the Old Testament, we find in more modern times, the tragic rule of Hitler and his practice of cremation. Survivors of Auschwitz often spoke of their memory of the chimney constantly smoking as corpses were incinerated. Historic records reveal that some of Hilter’s crematorium facilities were capable of burning over 1,400 bodies in a 24 hour period. Hitler hated the Jews, but more importantly, he hated God. One of the ways that he dishonored God was by starving and burning the bodies of people created by God.
Is It Really About Money?
When you consider the care and preparation that went into the burial practices of the people of God throughout history, it seems normal to kiss the cheek of your loved one and say goodbye through a burial process that honors the dignity of the body. The imago Dei of the human being is not limited to the human body, but David Jones makes a good point as he writes, “The dignity of the human body is also demonstrable by the incarnation of Christ. While ‘God is spirit’ (John 4:24) and thus has no body, in his incarnation, Jesus took on human flesh.” 
How much money do you save in the cremation process? Is it worth it? What message are you sending to others by your actions? Sure, you may not be thinking of the theological aspects in the moment and it really may be a financial issue for you. I don’t think it’s sinful. I don’t think you should be gripped with fear and regret if you’ve chosen cremation. However, I do think it’s worth considering beyond the potential financial savings. Perhaps if you downgrade your casket and cut other corners you could stick with the long line of Christian burial practices rather than cremation. Cremation doesn’t limit God in the resurrection, but consider the message we send to others when we bury our loved ones. We are looking forward to the resurrection. Just as Christ was buried and resurrected bodily from the tomb, so shall all of the children of God be raised in a glorified body to live with God forever.
- Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976) 24
- David W. Jones, “To Bury or To Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” JETS 53/2 (June 2010) 335–47