Bloomington: WestBow Press, 2015
Even a century ago, the issue of the advisability and appropriateness
of cremation was still being discussed in mainstream Protestant Churches. For centuries,
the view had prevailed that those religions which taught the resurrection of the
body (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) naturally favoured burial of the dead. The
body was to be treated with respect, even in death. Those eastern religions such
as Buddhism and Hinduism, which teach that in death the soul flees the body with
no desire to have anything more to do with it, practised cremation.
It is thus right and good that the issue be revived for
discussion today, as Schmidt has succeeded in doing. Christians ought to think through
this issue, although I rather think that the case is overstated in places. Regarding
the embalming of Jacob in Genesis 50:2, Schmidt says that ‘Joseph had no biblical
support or approval for what he had the embalmers do to his father and later to
himself.’ It is difficult to see how the dead body of Jacob could be taken back
to Machpelah in Canaan for burial unless it was embalmed. Similarly, the discussion
over the burning of bodies in Amos 6:10, presumably to prevent the spread of disease,
may lack a little in taking account of the context. Burial at sea, for example,
shows that one cannot always do what one would wish. However, the acceptance of
cremation without taking cognizance of the overwhelming biblical emphasis – without
a specific command, admittedly – on burial is, in my view at least, a sad feature
of modern church life. Burial or cremation makes no difference to the deceased,
but the long-term impact of cremation would surely be to undermine belief in the
resurrection of the body.
Peter Barnes is the editor of AP and pastor at Revesby Presbyterian Church NSW.