Thursday, May 6, 2010

Questions I am asked: What about cremation?

It is easy to be light hearted about the subject if you do not have to make a decision about a loved one that has recently died. But it is a very difficult subject when someone close to you had died and nobody knew what they might have wanted.
We tend not to talk about death. It is one of those subjects that people try to sidestep. Death is a very natural thing, unless Christ returns on the clouds before we die, the one certainty that we can live with is:
Nobody will leave this life alive!
It is very important to sit down with your family and to talk about dying and death.
The most important thing(if you are a Christian) is to make sure that your family knows that you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That when you die, you know that you will go to your heavenly Father. Make sure that you ask them about their faith. I stood next to many open graves in my life, there are little consolance for families who are uncertain about the faith of a loved one.
Secondly it is necessary to talk about the possibility that you may be in an accident and end up in ICU. What happens when you are on life support and somebody has to make a decision about turning of the machines? I made a living will, where I have already made the decision:

"If the time comes when I can no longer take part in decisions for my own future, let this declaration stand as my directive.
If there is no reasonable prospect of my recovery from physical illness or impairment expected to cause me severe distress or to render me incapable of rational existence, I do not give my consent to be kept alive by artificial means, including any pacemaker, nor do I give my consent to any form of tube-feeding when I am dying; and I request that I receive whatever quantity of drugs and intravenous fluids as may be required to keep me free from pain or distress even if the moment of death is hastened.
DO NOT RESUSCITATE: I do not give my consent to any person's attempt at resuscitation, should my heart and breathing stop and my prognosis is hopeless."
This type of will takes the decision out of the hands of traumatised family and friends. I am not scared to die, I am going to meet my Saviour! But if you decide to go the way of a living will, you have to communicate this to your family.
The last important thing you have to talk about is Burial or Cremation. I grew up with the idea that cremation was a sin. Precisely were this idea came from I cannot say, we never talked about death of dying in our house as kids. When talking to people who has to make this decision I encounter this idea on a regular basis. There are no biblical grounds on witch to claim whether cremation is right or wrong.
In the Bible there is no instance of cremation, Jewish, heathen or Christian. The Jews entombed, if possible, or else buried their dead. 1 Kings 11:15--"Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead"
Even criminals were buried. Deut 21:22-23--"If a man guilty of a capital offence is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day."
A cave was the usual tomb, as Palestine abounds in caves. Gen 49:29-32--"Then he gave them these instructions: 'I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah.'"
Even Jesus was entombed when he died on the cross. John 19:40-42--"Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there."
Does this mean we should not cremate? Although cremation was the customary practice of the ancient Greeks, and was also not unknown among the Romans, the Bible never says that this is wrong. If it was wrong to cremate, you can be assured that it would have been mentioned in the Bible.
Burning is mentioned in the Bible in the following instances:
a. In the case of Saul's and his sons' mutilated headless bodies, where regular burial was impossible and there was a possibility of the Philistines coming and mutilating them still more. Notice though that the bones were not burned but buried.: 1 Sam 31:11-13--"When the people of Jabesh Gilead heard of what the Philistines had done to Saul, all their valiant men journeyed through the night to Beth Shan. They took down the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth Shan and went to Jabesh, where they burned them. Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh."
b. In a plague, to prevent contagion: Amos 6:9-10--"If ten men are left in one house, they too will die. 10And if a relative who is to burn the bodies comes to carry them out of the house and asks anyone still hiding there, "Is anyone with you?" and he says, "No," then he will say, "Hush! We must not mention the name of the LORD."
c. At one instance, some Israelites had committed some secret sin and were to be destroyed by fire: Josh 7:15--"He who is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the LORD and has done a disgraceful thing in Israel!"
So, is it wrong to cremate? The Bible doesn’t tell us so. What is more important than how we are buried is how we live our lives: 1 Cor 13:3--"If I give all I possessions to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."
Cremation or burial is not the question. The question is this: What kind of life are you leading? Do you care for God and your neighbours? Do you show compassion to them? Do you love everyone the way God loves you? It is still not too late to do so.
If we look at the practical aspects of it then we must acknowledge that it is difficult to get a burial site and it will become still more difficult in future. It is more expensive to burry someone than to cremate.
Secondly in the past we have promoted burial above cremation, because the ritual of the burial helped the children to accept the reality of death. That is not true anymore, there are so many beautiful Christian rituals that can be used with cremation that I believe it is the better option. My choice is Cremation. I want them to scatter my ashes in the sea – I love the sea. If it is possible I would like them to do it on a windy day. (I hope they make sure the wind blows towards the sea, otherwise they may end up taking some of me home)

Please also consider to be a Organ donar.


  1. Dankie Paul. Veral vir die living will links! Om 'n orgaan skenker te word is so maklik, mense moet net die form op die site invul. Hulle pos dan vir jou alles. Ek wil ook veras word, maar ek weet nognie waar ek wil he hulle my as moet gooi nie...

  2. "We tend not to talk about death"

    Nigella Lawson skryf dat waar geld en seks altyd taboe was om oor te praat, het dit nou dood geword in ons samelewing waar fisiese skoonheid en jeugdigheid gevier en verhewe word. Sy trek 'n interessante verband met die Amerikaanse Halloween wat ook nou in Engeland groot is, as die 'ridiculing' van en ontkenning van die dood binne hierdie denkraamwerk.
    Ja, om resepteboeke te lees is verrykend op allerhande vlakke :)

  3. Ja Manitza the twee wat ek die meeste van haar geniet het was Food to celebrate life en Fo that celebrate life.

  4. Baie relevant en belangrik!! Ek het altyd weggeskram om oor die realiteit van dood met my man te praat... en wat ek gedink het nie vinnig op my pad sou kom nie, het! Gelukkig vir genade en familie se ondersteuning en raad, is ek deur keuses wat gemaak moes word, maar sou sekerlik makliker gewees het as, soos jy noem in jou skrywe, as ek en my man oor die werklikheid van praktiese goed gesels het. Verseker is die enigste troos die sekerheid van mense se naaste se geloof!!!

  5. Dankie Paul. Jy het ook vir my meer rustigheid oor verassing gegee. My kinders weet dis my versoek - en ook dat my asse (sal seker baie wees!) in die see gestrooi moet word. Wou dit graag by Kalkbaai (nie die hawe nie) gehad het, maar wat enige plek is okay!!