Cremation? A Medical Doctor Speaks


Dear Charles,

Your insert on cremation caught my attention for the reason that my wife and I provided for cremation prior to her death 10 years ago. There was a memorial service only. I have since remarried as you know.

For some reason I have never regarded cremation, or any other dignified way of disposing of the human body after death as a Biblical question other than as it touches on the sensibilities of others, who may think there is a Biblical injunction involved.

I feel that the world with its human inhabitants constitutes one vast crematorium. The only difference being that it takes years for the world to do its job, and the crematorium does its job in a few hours. Although I am not an authority, I challenge any one to produce the remains, even the bones of anyone who died 500 or more years ago. Only bones not exposed to the elements would be preserved in part, and the soft tissue we all know is transformed. In the case of an Egyptian mummy other chemicals have substituted for the flesh that once was there.

I have not researched it in depth but I know that in Sweden, after a period of about 3 generations (about 75 years) gravestones are removed and grave sites are reused. In Austria I saw a picture postcard depicting the practice in one Austrian city where human skulls and long bones are stacked neatly in piles with a name or number painted on the skulls. These were exhumed to make room for more. I think it is pretty widely known that in New Orleans where surface burials are resorted to because of the water problem that room is made in the vaults by displacing the oldest remains when new ones are added.

In a short while, even if embalmed, the body becomes a little pile of dust composed of the elements and molecules sodium, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, iron, oxygen, etc. The same elements and molecules are rendered by cremation. They may seep into the ground, floods may come and wash them out to sea. Some evaporate into the atmosphere. Of the trillions of molecules from the billions of people who have occupied the earth traces of each can probably be found on every square mile of the earth s surface. In God s economy these elements are recycled in the food we eat, the clothes we wear and in the "temple" we live in. The chemicals that composed the body of Attila the Hun or Jerome; the remains of the Roman soldier who drowned in the Mediterranean in 200 B.C. now reside somewhere on every square mile of the earth's surface. In the case of some dignitaries such as Lincoln or Churchill, some of their remains may be confined to a smaller area (assuming that there were no) grave robbers).

The immortal soul is in God's keeping. We will be resurrected bodily but out bodies will be changed (1 Cor. 15:15-53). We don't know how, because the Bible doesn't tell us that. Christ was resurrected bodily and he was changed. We know that but we don't know how. We do know all that we need to know. The Bible is sufficient.

So much for the philosophic and scientific disposition of the flesh. There is still in the mind of many people the tradition of burial; usually in a special burial site (graveyard) with head stone and all, and it is a rare epitaph that can be deciphered. Even granite is reduced to sand by the elements. This tradition is so entrenched that to consider circumventing it may offend the conscience of Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians may be even more bothered in this regard. Here it behooves us to pause. Although to my knowledge, there is no direct injunction against cremation, there may be an indirect injunction based on the principle illustrated in I Cot. 8 and 10:31-33. The burial tradition may have other subjective merits for people who feel it will perpetuate the memory of themselves in the hearts of their children and grandchildren, who can visit the site of the burial, but more often it is lost in the weeds and rarely if ever visited.

In conclusion I think it behooves the person contemplating cremation to confide in all those with an interest in the matter, to offer an explanation and instruction in an effort to get their acquiescence, if not their approval. If it truly offends a brother's conscience, one must reconsider his decision. Properly explained and understood, I think this is unlikely. Ray M. Lobb, M.D.