Summary: Answers to questions about death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
[The questions below were submitted by people at Forest Hills Fellowship Baptist Church.]
1. Does the Bible prohibit cremation?
Burying the body was the standard practice of the Israelites in the Old Testament and Christians in the New Testament. However, the Bible does not contain a command that our bodies must be buried after we die.
Some might use 1 Corinthians 6:19 to argue against cremation: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” But it’s clear that Paul is talking about what we should do with our bodies while we are living. Some professing believers at Corinth were committing sexual immorality (v. 18), so Paul urges them to “honor God” with their bodies (v. 20).
Remember [your Creator]—before...the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7).
Cremation merely accelerates the natural process of decomposition. But some Christians wonder, “How will my body be raised from the dead if I am cremated?” First, many Christians have been burned at the stake. We don’t doubt that their bodies will be raised. Second, “Nothing is too hard for [the Lord]” (Jeremiah 32:17). It is no more difficult for God to resurrect ashes in an urn than bones in a casket.
Cremation is not a right or wrong issue. You are free to choose whether you want your body to be cremated or buried. What we do with are bodies while we are living is much more important than what is done with our bodies after we are dead.
2. Can people in heaven see what is happening on earth?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us...run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1).
Some Christians believe that this verse teaches that our departed Christian loved ones watch us like spectators watch athletes in a stadium. But is that what this verse really means?
Who are these witnesses?
• They are not our loved ones, but the faithful saints of HEBREWS 11.
• They are active witnesses who SPEAK to us by their EXAMPLE; not passive witnesses who WATCH us with their EYES.
3. Why is it necessary for the bodies of Christians to be raised?
Answer: It’s God’s plan to RENEW all of creation.
When a believer dies, his or her spirit goes immediately to heaven. “To be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
• There is no intermediate state (example, purgatory) between death and heaven. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
• Our souls do not sleep. The Bible sometimes does refer to the death of believers as “sleep.” But it is our bodies, not our souls, that sleep. The bodies of believers who die prior to the return of Christ will be “sleep” in the grave waiting to be “awoken” (raised). John writes in Revelation 6, “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (vv. 9-10). It’s clear that the souls of these people were fully conscious in heaven.
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The curse of sin marred God’s creation. “To Adam [God] said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it,” Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return’” (Genesis 3:17-19). God did not intend for us to sweat, feel pain, age, and die.
4. Will we recognize our loved ones in heaven?
Moses and Elijah once appeared with Jesus on a mountain (Matthew 17:3). Peter, James, and John witnessed this event and somehow knew that the two men were Moses and Elijah. (We are not told how they knew. But I don’t think Moses and Elijah were wearing name tags: “Hello, my name is Moses.”) So Moses and Elijah kept their earthly identities after death. This verse also implies that in heaven we will even be able to recognize people we had never seen on earth. If we will recognize people we have never seen, surely we will recognize our loved ones.