Thinking about the body and burial

(Zak Carter) #1

I kinda need to process this a bit, but hopefully some of you can help me out.

I saw Tim’s tweet just now:

And I have to confess that my first thought was “what a waste of life.” This is a point where I’m feeling conflicted. It seems intuitively wrong (to me, at least) to risk the living for the sake of the dead. Yet it is also seems intuitively noble and brave to risk life for the sake of a fallen comrade. I can’t write that off.

Considering the issue more broadly, it seems somewhat pedantic (again, I’m just giving my honest reaction) to insist on burial when we know that God will resurrect all bodies at the end of the age, not just the ones that are correctly preserved. And consider: the bones of Abraham, Noah, Moses, or King David are surely dust at this point. Would the physical condition of these saints bodies today, in 2019, be any different had they been cremated instead of buried? I honestly don’t know.

Yet at the same time, I’ve been feeling more and more how scandalous cremation is. The concept is becoming more and more disgusting to me as irreverent and pathetic. What I feel most strongly about is the necessity of seeing the body of the dead. This is good for the living. Especially in a culture like ours which simultaneously fetishizes death and pretends it doesn’t exist, we need to be reminded of what real death looks like, that we will all die one day, and that death is the final enemy which Christ will defeat.

I’m still wrestling with how to put all of this together. But as I wrestle, I thought of an analogy: Just because God will one day establish perfect justice on the earth does not mean we should disregard justice on earth today. So why am I so inclined to say that how we treat the bodies of the dead doesn’t matter because God will resurrect them all anyway?

What say you?

(Joseph Bayly) #2

At some level the answer is Gnostic influences. The idea that what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter because they are physical is easier for Christians to fall into when thinking of a dead person because the body is now separate from the spirit.

The body is not the dead person. But it is what remains physically of the dead person. Thus, as we attempt to honor the sanctity of human life, we treat with respect what remains of them. We would never burn up the pictures of the dead person unless we meant to dishonor the person, yet we insist it means nothing when we burn up their actual body. What absurdity.

Something about the idea of difference in eternity is particularly tempting to us to ignore the meaning and important of physical things right now, but even there we can compare it to something else to reveal the bankruptcy of the idea. In heaven we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Thus, those who “understand” this “secret knowledge” reason that they can import eternity to the present and insist that it doesn’t matter who they have sexual relations with here and now. This is always the upshot of gnosticism—the physical doesn’t matter because we “know better.”

No we don’t. We know that eternity will be different. And we know that eternity is not yet come. And we know that human life matters and thus we should treat the bodies of the dead with respect in a display of faithful testimony concerning that future eternity, where the dead will be raised and judged.

(Tim Bayly) #3

Yes, it does seem wrong, but then we remember the love for our Lord demonstrated by Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene. Whom were they loving? Whom are those Marines loving? How do we separate the man from his body? Should we? What is a greater honor we can give our Lord than to bury Him in our tomb and annoint his soon-to-be-resurrected body?

Yes, but that is God’s agency. It is not man burning and grinding and smashing his loved ones. People die, too, but it must be God’s agency—not man’s. And never forget the opposites are loved ones planting my body in anticipation of the Glorious Spring of the resurrection of those dead in Christ as opposed to loved ones not planting my body, but burning, grinding, smashing, and (almost always) scattering it.

Absolutely. As one unsophisticated older woman in our church put it, she is tired of the selfishness of those who cremate robbing her of the chance to see and love and grieve over the body of her departed loved one.

As to your final question, we are all utilitarians today.

With love,

(Daniel Meyer) #4

@Zak_Carter Here’s a recording of the session on cremation from the 2015 Clearnote Pastors Conference, The Last Enemy that may be helpful; Tim makes the case from Scripture for the importance of burial. Doesn’t directly address your question but it’s helpful background as we consider these kinds of things.