As Christians, we believe God will raise all the dead at the last day. But what about those that have been cremated? By agreeing to cremation, are we not putting God to the test?
Questions Listed Under Death
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Thank you for your questions regarding death and burial. Although Scripture does not command his church or his people to bury the dead, it is fitting that we treat the human body with respect. Even more so because we know that God will one day raise up the body of a Christian and reunite it with the soul.
Methods of burial vary by time and culture. Among the Old Testament Jewish people, the body was usually laid out in a cave or tomb. After a year, the bones were then thrown into a common recepticle (ossuary) in order to make room for the "next generation." In some cases the bones of hundreds of people would be placed in the ossuary. We might find this idea of throwing all the bones together evidence of a lack of respect for the dead. Yet this was one method of burial among the Hebrew culture.
Today we have different ways of dealing with the dead. In the United States, we have the practice of either placing the body in a permanent burial plot or having the body cremated. Both show respect for the dead. Unless a person specifically requests cremation in an attempt to "test" or "defy" God, we cannot say that it is wrong. A Christian trusts that an all powerful God will be able to resurrect the body on the Last Day. So cremation can also be a testimony to the power of God who will be able to raise up every body, whether it was buried in the ground, buried at sea, or cremated. Since cremation is neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible, the key thing to look at would be a person's motive.
If you have tried to commit suicide does it mean you don't trust or believe in God?
The whole matter of suicide is quite complex. So are the reasons why a person may attempt to end his or her own life. In some cases the act of suicide could be the result of unbelief. Such was the case with Judas Iscariot. His actions revealed remorse and despair. He had given up on God and felt that there was no way God could forgive him.
Yet not everyone who attempts or succeeds in committing suicide is a Judas Iscariot. Some might be suffering extreme psychological or emotional distress and not fully comprehend what they are doing. Others might act rashly and not think through what they are doing. For still others a suicide attempt may be a desperate cry for help. It is possible that in such cases these people could be acting in weakness of faith.
That being said it is important to note that suicide is never a God-pleasing action. It is an act of love when one person lays down his life for another, but to take one's own life is selfish. We can only hope that in a particular case such selfishness flowed out of a weakness of faith and not a lack of faith in Christ as Savior.
I've been told that if you commit suicide, you can't go to heaven because it's a sign of unbelief. What does the Bible say? Are there known cases in the Bible where someone has committed suicide and has gone to heaven?
The Bible reports six cases of suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:52-54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul's armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:5), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20), and Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5). Some would include Samson (Judges 16:25-30) in the list, yet his death was not a selfish act of self destruction but a self-sacrificing act similar to that of a soldier who sacrifices himself for his fellow soldiers. His final act did not reflect despair and hopelessness but a prayerful trust in the true God. For this reason he is mentioned among the people of faith in Hebrews 11:32. However, this was not the case with the other six that were mentioned above. They acted in despair and unbelief and forfeited any hope of heaven.
But even though the examples of suicide mentioned in the Bible are all negative, this does not mean that every person who takes his or her own life is eternally lost. Perhaps a person is suffering from a pyschological disorder. Like other organs and parts of the body, the brain can also malfunction. Or perhaps someone in a moment of emotion crisis acts rashly and takes his or her own life. We cannot say in each of these cases that the person acted in unbelief. And finally it is unbelief that condemns us to eternal punishment, not any particular sin per se. Likewise it is trust in the crucified and risen Savior that saves us—not because we lived a good life, and not because we died a good death, but because he lived and died in our place.
Is it OK to register as an organ donor on your driver's license?
Our synod does not bind anyone's conscience in this matter but leaves it up to the individual child of God. In other words, we consider this something God has neither commanded nor forbidden, a so-called adiaphoron. A Christian should decide this on his or her own, based on the principles of love and wisdom, with a consideration of the possibility of causing someone to stumble in the faith. If a person has a doubting conscience, we should be quick to help them search the Scriptures on pertinent issues that surface here.
The main issues that surface with the subject organ donation deal with (1) loving our neighbor, (2) the treatment of the body, and (3) the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. Love for our neighbor (Romans 13:9) is perhaps the most often used argument for organ donations and transplants. It is an opportunity to serve someone else here on earth. Some who oppose organ transplants have classified them as bodily mutilation and see that as contrary to a proper love for a body redeemed by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), although the majority of Christians feel that is a misrepresentation of what is happening here. Others have asked whether this somehow interferes with the resurrection of the entire body on the Last Day, although we find that the removal of organs would hinder God no more than the eventual decomposition of the body as "dust returns to dust" (Genesis 3:19).
There are other issues that may enter the picture here and deserve attention and discussion. The potential harvesting of organs when the donor's body is "kept alive" or functioning by machines or when there is less than complete brain death involved, the ethical issues of selling or auctioning organs for monetary gain, and the criteria for prioritizing recipients of donated organs are among the issues that one can think of. Adequate discussion of these takes us beyond our purpose and ability in this Q&A forum. Competent and preferably Christian professionals should be consulted.
How can I be sure there's life after death?
The view that there isn't a life after death is certainly a minority position. People disagree sometimes sharply on what life after death is like, but very few believe that this life is all there is.
Why is that? Perhaps one reason is that a thought like that is too sad to contemplate. The lack of permanence, the brevity of life, the desire for making a lasting impression—all that begs for something more.
Most people have always sensed this, and the Bible tells us why. It says God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
God created you with longings that nothing in this life can satisfy. He would be very cruel if he did not provide a life after death.
There is a much better way to approach your question.
Suppose that someone died in full view of people. Suppose he was certified to be truly dead, and that he was buried in a grave. Now suppose that, some days later, the dead man reappeared, obviously alive and well. Then suppose that he talked and ate with the very same people who had known him in life, some of whom had watched him die. Suppose that over 500 people saw this formerly dead man alive, and that these people spread the news of the miracle everywhere. Suppose further that they stuck to their story so stubbornly that some of them were martyred for it.
Your proof is the eyewitness accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus himself said: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies" (John 11:25).
What happens when believers die? When we get to heaven are we given bodies or are we just in spirit? Are the soul and body reunited on the last day when Jesus comes and our bodies rise out of our graves?
By asking, "What happens when believers die?" you remind us of really important past and present events that make all the difference for us after we die.
Even before we were born, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to bring forgiveness of sins for mankind and to provide a solid foundation upon which we may stand, body and soul. And now, during our lifetimes, God provides us with the good news (gospel) of Christ's life and death on our behalf, and the Holy Spirit works through that gospel to bring us to trust in Christ's work for us personally. In this way we have become "believers" and may look forward to our deaths as forgiven sinners who have been reconciled to God.
What happens when believers die? I'll give you a short list that provides answers for your explicit questions.
- At physical death our bodies and souls are separated. The body decays (returns to dust) while the soul returns to God and is commended to his care (see Ecclesiastes 12:7, 2 Corinthians 5:6-8).
- On the Last Day, when Jesus Christ returns visibly and in glory, our bodies will be raised from the dead, restored, and reunited with our souls (see John 5:28-29, 1 Corinthians 15:51-58).
- In the eternal presence of the Lord, that is, in heaven, we will enjoy pleasures forevermore, in body and soul together (see Psalm 16:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
As Christians we know that the next world is better than this one, so when I am having a really bad day, I pray that God will take me home sooner rather than later. Is it wrong to pray for this? I know God has a plan for me and that is why he doesn't take me home, so I would not take my own life. But I would be lying if I said I didn't want God to end mine. Is this a sin?
My main advice to you is that you take the time to sit down with your pastor and talk about this. A face-to-face conversation with someone who knows you and in a setting where both of you can ask and answer questions is the preferred route to take. Here I must speak in general terms without really knowing you.
The first point I'll make is this: No, it is not necessarily wrong or sinful to desire death and graduation to glory. The Apostle Paul makes that clear with his famous words, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain . . . I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far" (Philippians 1:21,23).
The second point worth saying is that death is by no means the only thing a believer desires. Read through all of Paul's words in Philippians 1:20-26. Paul compares the desire to die and go to heaven with the value of his staying on earth. If the obtaining and enjoyment of heaven were the only goals of the Christian or the only purposes of God for us, no Christian would need to remain on earth after receiving the gift of saving faith through the gospel of Jesus Christ. God could and perhaps would just take each new Christian into heaven the way he took Enoch (see Genesis 5:24 and Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:1-12). But God has much more in his plans for believers. There is value for others that we remain and serve and testify to the truth here on earth. That is what Paul recognized and made clear.
Finally, it is obviously the cultivation of the gift of godly contentment that you want and need, the willingness to live and the willingness to die as your gracious Lord determines. I suppose all of us have those days with emotional and possibly physical and spiritual low points, and to express a disgust or fatigue as pilgrims on earth is hardly a new thing among believers (consider Elijah again, here in 1 Kings 19:3-5). But we do not seek this as the dominant characteristic of our lifestyle to the degree that it hinders our serving the Savior and our neighbor in the time of grace given to us on earth.
Has the Lutheran church in history, for example, in the Lutheran Confessions expressed any consistent conclusions in reference to near death or after death experiences? Would we refer to this as an open question?
We have not searched historical documents of the Lutheran church regarding this question. However, we would say that there are three main possible sources of such experiences. They are:
- Products of the person's mind like dreams. In some cases drugs may play a role.
- Satanic visions intended to mislead the person. Satan can appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). A message that says there is no hell or that life after death is good for everyone is Satanic whether it comes directly from Satan or from the person's mind.
- God and his angels can appear to his children. God and angels have appeared in dreams.
Study of these experiences suggests that most of them seem to be products of the person's mind and wishes. Catholics see Mary. Hindus see one of their gods, etc. Some of the experiences are comforting. Some terrifying. Most seem to be produced by the mind of the person, but the other two sources cannot be ruled out. One has to look at them on a case by case basis.
If the message received is contrary to Scripture, we know that we cannot believe it. Some of the apparitions of Mary may be psychological. Some may be Satanic. We may not be able to determine the sources in some cases.
Does the Bible Talk about Cremation?
God doesn't say anything in the Bible about the cremation of a human body to reveal whether he approves or disapproves of it. Therefore we classify the custom as something God has neither commanded nor forbidden, that is, a matter of Christian freedom. In Bible times the prevailing custom was that of burying bodies, but this was never commanded as a moral issue among God's people.
There was a time (two or more generations ago) when the Christian community was more frequently opposed to cremation and strongly preferred to bury the bodies of the deceased. Aversion to the burning of the body did not stem especially from the Bible, but was more a reaction against atheists and agnostics who seemed to take pleasure in taunting God and believers by "challenging" God to restore their cremated bodies on the Last Day. It was a silly form of mockery, of course, and we seldom hear of that particular kind of taunt anymore. Cremations are more often performed today for ecological or financial reasons (to avoid using up limited land space in some areas and because cremations are often less expensive than cemetery burials.)
According to Scripture can the dead communicate with the people who are still alive on earth?
Within the past few decades there has been an explosion of interest in two-way communication between the living and the dead. Movies and TV shows have predictably adopted the concept in their desire to provide profit-producing entertainment. Nevertheless, the dead do not and cannot communicate with people still living on earth. This concept has always been a prominent part of false religious practices and is at the heart of various forms of so-called spiritism. Repeatedly the Bible warns against this idea and its practitioners; in fact, some have claimed to have counted nearly 500 prohibitions in the Bible that tell God's people not to seek information from the dead or from those involved in occult activities. Deuteronomy 18:10 is a typical example of this kind of prohibition. There is an unmistakable connection between consulting the dead and exposing oneself to demonic activity. Therefore God issues strong and frequent warnings.
An even greater emphasis in the Bible is the wonderful truth that we do not need to consult the dead or place ourselves in spiritual danger seeking information from the dead. Isaiah 8:19-20 is an excellent example of the biblical emphasis. God has revealed in his Word, the Bible, all that we need to know and are suppose to know in religious matters.
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