Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

by Dr. William B. Knippa

My husband and I are in our late seventies and are preparing what we think will be our last will. Regarding our funeral plans, one daughter thinks we should be cremated (it’s less expensive, less stressful for family, etc.), but our other daughter wants us to be buried. Neither of us feels comfortable with the idea of cremation, but we can’t put our finger on why. Does the Bible say anything about it?

You are wise to talk with your daughters about your will and your funeral plans. Since there are differences of opinion, it is best that these be shared and addressed now. I encourage you to continue the conversation, being clear that you and your husband are the ones responsible for pre-funeral planning. Assure your daughters that, while you are open to their thoughts and suggestions, you will make the final decision. In this way, you avoid appearing to take sides.

At present, cremation is increasing in favor because of space limitations in cemeteries, and also because of the rising costs of a traditional burial. For a historical and scriptural perspective, I suggest that you look at www.lcms.org. There, under the FAQ section (click on Moral and Ethical Issues then Life Issues), it is noted, “The LCMS has no official position on cremation,” and “in itself, the practice has no theological significance and may be used in good conscience.” It further notes that cremation, “which used to be viewed negatively by the church, is now being viewed more favorably.”

The negative view came out of a historical context that generally associated cremation with non-Christian religious practices that denied the resurrection of the dead, specifically the notion that God cannot “reconstitute” a body that no longer exists. The fact is that God is not limited by physical laws. Indeed, the phrase “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” spoken at many Christian burials describes the reality of physical death.

But the greater reality is the resurrection of the dead, promised to God’s people in Christ, regardless of the disposition of your physical body at the time of your death—buried in the ground or at sea, incinerated in fiery crashes or crematoriums, abandoned on battlefields, or otherwise destroyed. May your faith in the risen Christ dispel any doubts you have as you continue your funeral-planning.

Questions for “Family Counselor” come from readers and, after steps are taken to assure confidentiality, from contacts made with Lutheran Hour Ministries. Send your questions to “Family Counselor,” The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address. 

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