Particles vs. Bodies

I’m often asked whether I think that cremation is an appropriate alternative to burial.  My standard response is that how we dispose of our bodies should reflect what we as Christians are told we are in Scripture.  We are special creations of God, distinct from anything else in creation whether animal, vegetable, mineral, whatever.  The fact that we may share some of the same elements, the same base ingredients as these other aspects of creation is not surprising given the description of our creation in Genesis 2.  But we are far more than the sum of our parts, far more than the chemicals and elements that constitute us.  We bear the imago dei.  How we dispose of our bodies should reflect this at some level.

Which is why I reject other options (or at least some other options) for dealing with a deceased human body as unacceptable.  I’ve repeatedly stated that I disagree with burial options that foster a different view of humanity as simply one part of an eco-system, using a decomposed or cremated body as part of the planting material for a seed(s) that will grow into trees or other vegetation.  I think this confuses the distinctness of humanity that Genesis clearly articulates.

And it is why I’m not a fan of this option – liquefying the body.  The process liquefies the soft tissue of the human body, leaving only the skeletal remains which can then be pulverized into a fine powder and given to the family.  But the liquefied remains are intended to be flushed into the local water system to be chemically treated like any other water.  The idea is that once all you have are basic chemicals and elements, there is no difference.  Treat ’em all the same.

That’s the part I object to.

Our modern obsession with science is problematic in that it all too often insists that everything and everyone is the same.  Genetics seeks to demonstrate not our uniqueness so much as our similarity to other species.  Chemistry dictates that we’re just walking chemical reactions that eventually – for one reason or another – stop.  By viewing humanity exclusively under a microscope we are able to justify any manner of dealing with our bodies – both while we’re alive as well as after we’re dead, arguing that there are no theological or even moral implications since we’re just a collection of chemicals and elements.

The Bible insists that we lift our eyes away from the microscopes sometimes, to see things as He sees them.  Yes, He created the chemicals and the elements that constitute our being.  But He sees us not in these terms, but in terms of being his creation, his unique creation, even the pinnacle of his creation.  We are more than the sum of our parts, more than just a collection of chemicals and elements that happened to accidentally arrange themselves as a human being for a few years.  Our choices for what to do with our bodies after our death should reflect this as a final testimony to our hope in Jesus Christ.

Yes, the body decomposes.  Given proper conditions and time it will on its own liquefy and disintegrate into the ground.  But it does so in the ground, not in a cylinder to be flushed into the water supply like any common grey water or sewage.  Cremation disposes of a great deal of our physicality in smoke and steam, but these elements are released, rather than incorporated back into some sort of system to be repurposed.

You were created unique.  Not an accident or an oversight.  Planned before the dawn of creation by the God who called the cosmos into being.  Special and unique in all of time and space.  Far, far more than just the sum of your parts.  Intended for eternal life and glory.  Step away from the microscope long enough to appreciate that.  You don’t have to deny that our bodies contain basic chemicals and elements.  Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s what defines us.

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