John Piper: Should Christians Cremate Their Loved Ones?

"There has been a skyrocketing preference for cremation over the past decades in the United States .... There are various causes, but the greatest, by far, is the combination of secularization and economics. Fewer people test the practice with biblical criteria, and more people want the cheapest solution. So my aim here is to touch on both of those causes." -  Piper

3910 reads

There are 43 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

...of the Biblical case for burial.  Not an explicit command, but it is something that does speak volumes about our theology. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

I have always found the theology a bit weak.  Most of it takes how we should view the body when we are alive and transfer that to how we should treat the body in death.  "Dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God who gave it."  The spirit it key.  The earthly body no matter how hard we try will just return to the dust in which it was created.  At the end of life, it begins its natural progression to rapidly return to dust.  Cremation speeds the process, but doesn't alter it.  I don't see where cremation shows a poor theology or is sinful.

Mark_Smith's picture

My mother died in May.

Just the embalming: $8500

Cremation: $995

Where's the theology in that?

For us, the decision was about available funds and not our eschatology or theology of man or creation.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've never understood why this is a difficult issue for Christians. I see no problem, or deeper cause for concern, with cremation. I understand if people wish to find theological reasons for a traditional burial. But, regardless of the method, I'm certain Christ will find each of us in the end - no matter what state our former bodies are in!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dgszweda's picture

TylerR wrote:

I'm certain Christ will find each of us in the end - no matter what state our former bodies are in!

I agree.  One of the funny things is when people argue this, whose theology is a problem?  The families, or the dead person?  The way the argument goes is that the "poor" theology is more impactful on the dead person and not the family.  Yet the dead person has no control over it the poor theology.  In the end, God will still be raising "dust", whether it was a normal or an accelerated dust conversion process.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Mark, just for kicks, I looked up the typical price for embalming, and it's $200-1000.    It's only about two hours worth of work (yes, I looked these things up due to the issues with COVID, call me weird, that's OK).  I think you chanced upon a funeral home that was pushing cremation hard by overpricing traditional burials.  Typical total cost for a standard burial is only $6500.

I don't discount the economic motive here, but the gap isn't as big as you were told.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Davis's picture

My oldest brother Jim died in August. He was cremated per his request. The difference in price between cremation and burial with all the bells and whistles was over 10k. We had a nice memorial service and plan to scatter his ashes at the Skyline Drive next spring per his request where we often rode our motorcycles together.

My wife and I have already decided to donate our bodies to science. They come pick up the body and return the ashes, if wanted, from anything not used. The request is revocable. But once I'm gone I don't really care what they do with my body. A nice memorial service with a photo is fine as long as the gospel is preached. I'm not a fan of wakes or viewings with embalmed bodies in caskets. At my mom's funeral years ago I hardly recognized her. It's not the last image I wanted of her. https://www.sciencecare.com/

I do not consider this a biblical issue on which believers need to take a position. 

 

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Typical total cost for a standard burial is only $6500.

If you found a funeral for $6,500 you better lock into that.  We just buried my grandfather, and I was in charge of everything, and it was closer to $10,000 and we went the cheap route.  There were caskets over $10,000.  But most that we were looking for was around $4,000 to  $5,000.

Bert Perry's picture

...was hoping to avoid that, actually.  That noted, my grandmother is 101 and is not doing terribly well with her dementia, so I am bracing for that.

Regarding the costs, here's an interesting possibility.  Yes, you need to be creative, and yes, you need to watch Wal-Mart quality, but hey, the thing needs to hold something that's not going to be moving for a couple of days, no?  There's another one made by monks.  (h/t Jim Peet for finding this a few years back, I believe)

Either way, $8500 for embalming alone is still pretty excessive, don't you think?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Andrew K's picture

1. To eliminate straw-men and unnecessary objections, I don't think cremation is sinful as such; nor, of course, is God unable to perfectly resurrect a cremated body.

2. Traditionally it has been understood as dishonorable to the body to burn it (not problematic if you belong to a religion where the body is essentially a skin-prison) and I do not believe that symbolism can be so lightly swept aside. Nor should it.

In my opinion, cremation should not be a Christian's first choice.

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

...was hoping to avoid that, actually.  That noted, my grandmother is 101 and is not doing terribly well with her dementia, so I am bracing for that.

Regarding the costs, here's an interesting possibility

Costco has some of the best prices on caskets.  And I did look into this.  The problem always is, do I really want to buy some caskets and have them sitting around, and when someone does die you usually have a day or two to get the cakset.  It is typically hard to order one from an online site and get it in quickly enough.  But it is an option.

Mark_Smith's picture

Have minimum charges and all kinds of fees.

Bert Perry's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Have minimum charges and all kinds of fees.

....but ethical businessmen do not do a 1000% markup.  That's traditionally left to the Gambinos, Colombos, and the government.

Sorry, Mark, but your figure is either nonsense or a funeral home that flat out tried to gouge you.  Mark and avoid, and warn your friends.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Bert,

I just looked at the price list for my local funeral home. A traditional funeral service costs approx $6000. This does not include the price of the casket, vault, or burial plot, so the total cost could well be double that figure or more. The cost of direct cremation is approx $3500 plus the cost of an urn.

Jeff Howell's picture

The costs of cremation are lower now, but they will rise as the demand for them rises as well. The most recent funeral for a lady from our church was over $10K, without going high-end on the casket. In our region of the country, many cemeteries are increasing rates for burial plots and the opening and closing graves. Government regulations have impacted how much time and effort it takes to prepare a body for viewing and burial. Even Covid has added time and costs which are passed along to the family.

You can save a whole bunch of money if you forego embalming (local and state regulations may determine whether embalming is required or not), and pre-order your casket. You can forego a burial vault, if state or cemetery regulations do not require vaulting. This is possible in PA, but the body has to be in the ground within 24 hours, and many people have a hard time doing that without a final view and emotional goodbye. Urban areas tend to be more expensive than rural as a general rule.

Traditional burial can be way less expensive if you pre-plan and also prepare the family for the emotional and spiritual challenges that will come. Other cultures in hotter climates move much more quickly than here in the U.S., and then have longer period of time for grieving after the burial itself.

josh p's picture

I also believe burial should be a christian’s first choice. I think I’ve posted it here before but Rod Decker taught on this and convinced me that burial, while not the only choice, is probably best.

https://dbts.edu/rice/#06

Mark_Smith's picture

were putting together a pine box, digging a hole, and there you go, burial is just preference and belief. In 2020, burial is an industry. You have embalming, casket, processing fees, plot, plot maintenance, headstone, environmental fees... Funeral homes tie the embalming to having a service that they manage with minimum fees. Then I found certain cemeteries favor certain funeral homes...

That is reality.

josh p's picture

Yeah Mark it’s unfortunate that burial is such an expensive endeavor. That being said, I hope to be a good enough steward of my finances that, by the time I die, a few thousand dollars extra will not create a burden. This is one reason that I have life insurance and believe it is wise until a person can “self-insure.”

AndyE's picture

When my Dad died a couple years ago, we saved quite a bit of money on the coffin by ordering on online, rather than through the funeral home.  I was really worried that it wouldn't come on time, but it shipped overnight, looked great, and we had no problems.  FWIW...

Mark_Smith's picture

If you're a "good" Christian, you'll plan for your burial... Yep, I knew it was coming.

Jim's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

If you're a "good" Christian, you'll plan for your burial... Yep, I knew it was coming.

Want to make my position clear:

  • At the end of the day, I consider it a preference issue
  • My preference (for me) is burial
  • I think planning ahead is wise
  • I don't care what others do
  • But I'm not contributing to a fund for others who fail to plan (Piper: "I’m not thinking mainly of a line-item in the budget, but of a segregated compassion-fund that church members may give to regularly or as the need arises. Grieving families could quietly approach the overseer of that fund and make it known that they have a need, and all could be handled quietly and carefully between the family and the funeral home.")

 

josh p's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

If you're a "good" Christian, you'll plan for your burial... Yep, I knew it was coming.

Mark, are you kidding? That's what you got out of my post? You seem bent on reading every post on SI as uncharitably as possible. Why don't you try being honest about what I said? 

Bert Perry's picture

It strikes me that, preplanned or not, a lot of families wouldn't have a lot saved for a funeral, especially one that was "premature" or unexpected.  I can imagine a wonderful ministry if someone wanted to do some comparison shopping and find the best deals, and (if necessary) maybe even have a couple of caskets ready in the basement.

Yeah, keep them locked up and away from the kids, but it's not a terrible idea.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Mark_Smith's picture

josh p wrote:

 

Mark_Smith wrote:

 

If you're a "good" Christian, you'll plan for your burial... Yep, I knew it was coming.

 

 

Mark, are you kidding? That's what you got out of my post? You seem bent on reading every post on SI as uncharitably as possible. Why don't you try being honest about what I said? 

Josh,

If you are going to attack me by name at least note I did not mention your name... You assumed I was attacking you. I did not. For the record, I note that you mentioned what you were doing in your own life, and not generalizing.

Mark_Smith's picture

A lot of Christians specialize in "stewardship" being the greatest Christian virtue. They think the Christian ideal is to be a great steward of everything, and if you are not when you have failed.

I admit I have made a lot of financial mistakes in my life (student loans), and it seems like the only thing Christians do not forgive is financial mistakes. On the grand scale of things my mistakes are not that bad, but they are there and I will likely pay the consequences for them the rest of my life. I don't need a brother pointing that out all the time.

Please be very sensitive about dealing with believers and personal finances .

Pages