Respect for the Dead

The Sanctity of Life and the Resurrection - Seventh in a Series

To a Christian, respect for the dead means that the living ought to hold the dead in loving or at least charitable memory; to see that they are given a decent burial; to “pay respects” by visiting or writing the family or attending a funeral or church service; and by supporting widows and orphans. Old Testament Israel went further to include preservation of the deceased man's line by marrying his widow to his brother or a close family member who could raise up seed for him, to honor his memory.

Some of those traditions continue now, but according to a report by the National Funeral Directors Association, cremations accounted for 50.2 percent of funerals in 2016, up from 48.5 percent in 2015, and 43.5 percent of Americans opted for a burial, down from 45.4 percent in 2015. The report predicts that by 2035 cremation will reach 78.8 percent for the USA. Cremation costs less than burial and is viewed as environmentally friendly, and people are not as religious as in former decades and centuries.

A Christian ought to feel a pang of guilt if he deprecates the memory of the dead —who cannot defend himself against slander etc.— or fails to weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15) or support family as needed (1 Tim 5:4). Or, if our duty is to oversee the handling of the body, we ought to feel wrong about organ sharing or cremation.

We have looked at reasons why organ sharing is against the Bible, but what about cremation? Or, what about medical donation for training or research purposes? In the Flesh & Bone & The Protestant Conscience (FBPC) e-book, these are discussed.

I noted that donating a body to help medical students learn or to assist in research that is not offensive to God, seems fine, provided there is an agreement to treat the body with respect.

Here is an excerpt from FBPC that addresses the objection that we may not be in control of life’s end, so when we are, why be so concerned?

Simply because some do burn up, have body parts cut off, or drown in the ocean, there is no reason to imitate the catastrophic in end-of-life matters. War and other circumstances beyond our control are not meant to furnish examples to us for the proper handing of body preparation at death and burial.

“Though the bones be scattered to the four winds of heaven, yet, at the call of the Lord God, they shall come together again, bone to his bone... We doubt not that God will guard the dust of the precious sons and daughters of Zion.” (Spurgeon)

Not all the saints receive proper burial, nevertheless a very early biblical account establishes the principle. We read in Genesis that Abraham sought to bury Sarah and would not accept a gift of land but insisted upon purchasing her grave, a cave and a field (Gen 23:9-20). That was the first real estate owned in the Promised Land, serving to mark the nation’s claim. From our standpoint, this Bible account testifies that burial is a serious matter and an investment that proves ones love for the deceased and a belief in the resurrection. This was believed, too, by Jacob (Gen 47:29-30, Acts 7:16) and Joseph (Gen 50:25 , Jos 24:32) who asked that their bones be carried up out of Egypt to be buried in the Promised Land. They wanted to be among the living.

As well, this burial assisted Abraham to grieve. Can cremation help anyone to grieve? Grieving is essential to the healing of the brokenhearted.

Abraham, the father of all the faithful, (Rom 4:11) believed in the resurrection by faith:

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
(Heb 11:17-19)

We often read of a king’s end in the Old Testament, that he “slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers.” (1 Ki 14:31, et al) Burial or interment was the method of handling a body after death, a practice which looked forward to Christ’s resurrection, though the nation was not aware of this aspect of their witness to the world.

Burial reminds those who grieve to focus instead on the Resurrection of the Lord and his victory over death, and that “in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22) As we bury our loved ones, we show we believe the Bible and look forward to the Resurrection of the saints. When we bury them whole, without missing body parts that were not lost in life’s trials, we testify that the body, too, is the person: A dead body has relation to its soul and in some marvelous, unknowable manner, will know it again at the last day.

If we deny the importance of the person as an unique individual whose body is due respect whether alive or dead, do we not also disrespect the doctrine of the Resurrection— an essential doctrine of the Christian faith?

How do we show our acceptance of and belief in the doctrines of our faith? We show our faith by our actions. Cremation does not show respect for the dead. Here is an article that explains how burial can cost the same as cremation.

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Angel fish
Public Domain, Link

...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1


A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.