Summary: What to do with the physical body, after death, can be a very sensitive issue and one where emotions will almost always override logic.
CREMATION – IS IT A SIN?
What to do with a dead human can be a very sensitive issue and one where emotions will almost always override logic. Dealing with a dead human body is an emotional issue because we are in love with this physical world, and because we have great difficulty thinking beyond worldly thoughts. Most of us have been conditioned by our culture to believe that we honor the memory of a person by spending lavish sums of money in caring for the corpse of the deceased. In many ways, dead is an emotional issue because most of us have a love-hate relationship with our body. We say that we are a Christian and the flesh is not important, but we spend inordinate sums of money, and most of our attention, on keeping our body alive. We love our body so much that we view our body as being who we really are; and, when we are dead we want people to honor our body. After all, isn’t that what we did to mom and dad, aunt and uncle, grandma and grandpa? Thus, our attention to the dead body of our loved one is generally driven by pure emotion: there is no logic involved what-so-ever.
Now, I am not implying that spending lavish sums of money caring for the body of a loved one is wrong: as long as you realize it is not a scriptural requirement. To start with, there is neither scripture to support our lavish treatment of a dead body nor is there scripture to support the expense of encasing it in steel and concrete. When someone shows you scripture about honoring the body it always is dealing with a living body: the temple of the Holy Spirit. Yes, to willfully allow our living body to become filthy and disease ridden is dishonoring the temple of the Holy Spirit. For as long as our body is occupied by the Holy Spirit we are bound by scripture to care for our body and make it a living sacrifice unto God. But once the spirit leaves our body it becomes just another mortal body, with no link to the New Testament requirements.
WHO ARE WE?
To start with, we need to recognize that we are of two natures: physical and spiritual. Our physical nature is our body and it is mortal. Our spiritual nature is our soul and spirit, which are immortal. Thus, we cannot fully understand death unless we address it from both a physical and spiritual perspective.
From scripture, we know that our physical nature, our biological body, is no different than any other biological body. Our biological body is made up of earthly material (dust): “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7) Now, this dust of the earth is simple elements such as: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Scripture also tells us that our body will return to the dust (earthly elements) from which it was made. We can go through all kinds of gyrations and employ numerous human manipulations but we cannot stop the word of God. For God said: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) There is nothing unique about the human biological body and it is subject to decomposition just as any other biological body is.
We need to recognize, however, that our physical nature, our biological body, is special. Our body is special because it is an earthly vehicle for our spiritual nature, our soul and spirit. This brings us to a very important point: our biological body is not who we are. If our body is who we really are, then God must hate all people who are born deformed and crippled. But it is not so! The physical body is simply a biological vessel in which our soul and spirit temporally resides. Paul said: “we have this treasure (soul and spirit) in jars of clay (our body), to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) So you see, who we really are is not something the eye can see. My spirit and my soul are who I really am. Thus, we cannot understand death until we first fully understand the difference between our physical nature and our spiritual nature. Our body is mortal and it will perish but our spirit is immortal. (1 Corinthians 15:42) Peter said: “… you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25)