The Table Podcast

Thinking Christianly About Burial and Cremation

In this episode, Kymberli Cook and Dr. Michael J. Svigel discuss thinking Christianly about burial and cremation in light of our future hope of resurrection.

Timecodes
00:15
Why Svigel suggested the topic of burial and cremation
02:52
What biblical principles support a theology of burial and cremation?
07:32
How can one think Christianly about death?
11:42
Can someone’s burial or cremation affect their salvation?
14:35
How can one think Christianly about burial?
19:51
How can one think Christianly about cremation?
27:55
How can one think Christianly about donation?
34:15
Summary of discussion
Resources Is Cremation Really and Option for Christians?   Don't Walk on Those Graves: The Christian View of Resurrection
Transcript
Kymberli Cook
Welcome to The Table Podcast, where we discuss issues of God and culture. My name is Kymberli Cook, and I am the Senior Administrator here at the Hendricks Center, and today we’re gonna be talking about how to think Christianly about burial and cremation. And I am joined by Dr. Michael Svigel, who is the theological department chair –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Chair, correct.
Kymberli Cook
– and professor, and has been a guest with us many, many times.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Several times.
Kymberli Cook
Yes, so thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Michael Svigel
It’s my pleasure.
Kymberli Cook
So you have been here so many times that you actually have reached out to us and suggested a topic for us today –
Dr. Michael Svigel
That’s right.
Kymberli Cook
– in this one, and what is it about it, about this area of discussion that made you say, “Hey, we really need to be addressing this?”
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, yeah, this is a question that is going to come up. As Christians, how do we think about, and how do we treat the remains of a loved one after they’re deceased? That’s a – everybody’s going to face it. They’re going to face it personally, and they’re going to face it with loved ones along the way. And so this question – the statistics now is cremation in the United States is up to about 50 percent, so it’s – and it fluctuates depending on where you’re at and such.

But it is clearly regarded as a viable option. There are a lot of reasons for it, and Christians I’ve noticed have not been able, sometimes, to navigate the issues involved in that. And there’s some strong opinions about it, which is understandable. And so I thought it would be a good topic to discuss and give people some things to think about.

Kymberli Cook
And it’s such a deep theological question with theological ramifications that in a situation where you have to be making decisions, where you might not – you know, in grief, your mind and your heart and everything just isn’t functioning quite like it always does, and that’s the hard – that’s a hard time to be having to sort through these kinds of deeper theological questions.
Dr. Michael Svigel
That’s right, and people will make emotional decisions. That’s okay. We’re emotional beings, but it would be good if people have a chance to think through the theological framework first, and that’s really where we need to start. Where – what is the theology of the person, of the body. You hear sometimes people say, “Well, it really doesn’t matter,” and they’ll speak in terms of just disposing of the remains and getting rid of the remains because that’s not really that person, and it doesn’t really matter what you do with it. Well, that’s not, as we’ll probably discuss, that’s not really a Christian perspective of the body, of God’s physical creation.
Kymberli Cook
So what are the theological, Biblical principles that we need to keep in mind as we are thinking through how to handle the dead and how even just to handle death in general as Christians?
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, and so I think number one, we have to start out with, surprisingly, a proper understanding of creation, a good theology of creation, that God is the creator of Heaven and Earth, of things visible and invisible, not just the God of our souls and our spirits. And so he created our bodies, and he created this physical creation good. And so this creation itself is not inherently evil. There are philosophies and religions out there that will say the body is just the shell, it’s just the prison that we need to escape from. But that’s not really a Christian perspective. God created us as – can I use a big word?
Kymberli Cook
Sure.
Dr. Michael Svigel
I’ll define it.
Kymberli Cook
Sure.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Psychosomatic beings – that is, psycho, psyche, a soul, an invisible part, and then somatic, a body, and we were not created as spirits that just happened to indwell a body for some practical reasons, but nor are we merely a body that – where there is no immaterial part. We are both of these things together at the same time. That makes us who we are, and to emphasize one over another the other is really not a Christian perspective on a human person. My body is part of me, and my soul is part of me, and so these things together make me. So when we talk about death, death is the – that was not planned, that God did not intend for us to die, but the ripping apart of the soul and the body, and then what that means is each part of that is incomplete.

And that’s a proper understanding of Christian death. And it should inform how we treat, then, the body itself – that it is not just garbage or an incidental thing that happened to be associated with us for a season. It is an essential part of who we were and who we will be as we get into the next area.

Kymberli Cook
Yeah, yeah, so what I’m hearing is that theologically, the material world matters, and because the material world matters, what – our bodies –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Our bodies matter.
Kymberli Cook
– matter, and they continue to matter even as they decompose.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Correct, correct, yes. And so then the next side of that is the eschatology or the –
Kymberli Cook
Yes, our hope.
Dr. Michael Svigel
– our hope and our future hope, and what we are actually looking forward to. I know it is very, very popular out there in preaching to hear even at funerals of, “We’re all,” you know, “We’re fully whole now, and so and so has died and is now, you know, experiencing real life.” Well, Biblically, theologically, that’s not really completely accurate. It is very clear that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, and that’s a great hope that we have. But that is not to be ended with a period but with an ellipses. Dot, dot, dot, there’s more.

And I would direct us to 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 13-18, which talks about – look, we do not grieve as – we do grieve, but we don’t grieve as those who have no hope because we believe that Christ, when he returns, is going to raise the dead. And by that, it means literally, he is going to raise up our physical remains just as his body that was laid in the tomb came to life again, but glorified and immortal and of a different higher quality. The same is true about the remains of we believers. Our bodies, what is left of them, God has chosen to take that as a seed, as it were, and raise up that body into new life, into the glorious body conformed to Christ’s body.

So not only is – does matter matter, but so does the body have a place in God’s plan of redemption, not ultimately annihilation, but rescuing that physical body, that physical part of us from death and reuniting it with our spirit and continuing on forever as glorified, immortal, psychosomatic, embodied beings. So that’s part of the Christian hope. That needs to be communicated just as much as dying and going to Heaven.

Kymberli Cook
Okay, and just when – you mention how people handle things in funerals and mourning and that kind of situation. Oftentimes, we hear, “You know, it really is for the best. They’re in a better place,” that kind of thing. And you address the material part of that. But to me, there seems like there’s a treatment and an understanding there of death that may not quite line up with what we – what Christians typically have believed, correct?
Dr. Michael Svigel
Right, yeah, and what the Bible teaches is, last time I checked, it still says that death is the enemy, and it’s the last enemy that will be ultimately defeated and eradicated. It’s not a part of God’s design that we were to die. So it’s part of the fall. It’s part of the curse. And so that’s one thing that Christ has come to conquer, and he doesn’t conquer it merely by when our body dies, our souls go to Heaven to be with Christ. That is part of it, and that is good news. I’m not going to deny that. But it’s only half the story.
Kymberli Cook
It’s not the end.
Dr. Michael Svigel
So is it true that people who are suffering from a really painful illness and sickness, that when that suffering ceases, at death – and they are absent from the body and present with the Lord, that they are in a better – sure. Paul says it’s far better to be with Christ. That’s the part of it, that’s the better, being with Christ. Clearly, being with Christ. Nothing against you, but I would rather be sitting here with Christ. You know – it’s – there’s something great about that, right? And in the contrast to the hope, to the suffering and the pain and the death, there’s something about being with Christ. But that doesn’t make the pain and the death and things good. So sometimes, we sloppily just say things like, “Death is great. Death is the door. Death is merely a transition.” No, death is the enemy.
Kymberli Cook
Something to rejoice in.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Death is painful. No, it’s not something we rejoice in. We grieve. 1 Thessalonians 4 says, “We grieve, but not as those who have no hope.” And so we have to make sure that we don’t call God’s – our enemy and God’s enemy, death, our friend. That’s – I think that’s the main point.
Kymberli Cook
And that’s a lesson I learned here at seminary, and you guys do a great job of kinda hammering away at that with us. And it’s a – it really is a paradigm shift from what you’re raised in, even in, you know, Christian environments and certainly in non-Christian environments, how they speak of death and, you know, a peaceful place, that kind of thing. But something that always struck me is with the verse and with that in mind, we grieve as those who have –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Hope, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
– who are not without hope. But we also grieve as those who recognize that something has just been ripped and torn, and we grieve and recognize that this is not the way that things were supposed to be. And so on a certain level, our grief can – I don’t want to say it’s deeper than other people’s grief. But it’s a different kind of grief because it’s a recognition of the brokenness of the world and how –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Correct.
Kymberli Cook
– and I feel like that’s even honoring to the Lord and – because it’s a recognition of the fact that death is so – is evil. It’s bad, and it’s not our friend, and so we grieve with hope, but we also grieve with a deeper knowledge –
Dr. Michael Svigel
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
– of the brokenness.
Dr. Michael Svigel
And to know for a fact, which is this trust, this hope and confidence, that this isn’t the way it’s meant to be, and this isn’t the way it’s going to end. And being stuck in the middle there, that tension that that creates, it – unlike someone who just believes in the material world or said, “Well, you know, death is death. It’s just something – it’s the big ugly you need to get used to,” no, we don’t have to get used to it. We battle against it. We battle against death and suffering and pain and injustice in this world because we know that’s not what God values and what he wants.
Kymberli Cook
Okay, so with that theological, biblical foundation laid, we’re gonna move to, um, the –
Dr. Michael Svigel
The question at hand, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
– practical discussion, yeah, as to how to Christianly handle our dead and how we handle that body that matters and will continue to matter into the Resurrection. And the first question that I have and that has come up as I’ve had conversations with other people about this is, “Does this, when we’re talking about how we handle the body, does it impact the person’s salvation? Does it impact their final resurrection? Are there gonna be actual, you know – here’s another big word: ontological things? Am I deciding something for my loved one –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Are there – yeah, there are gonna be repercussions in the future –
Kymberli Cook
– and that’s gonna impact them?
Dr. Michael Svigel
– right? Can I make the wrong decision and have this person – no, that’s never been the belief of the Christian faith, that you have very early – might surprise some people watching this – the very early treatises on the Resurrection. This – and it’s already in the second century discussing at length the Christian view of the Resurrection of the body, and the scenarios come up with, well, what if the person ends up, you know, dying in a fire and is annihilated by fire, or is – dies at sea and is – I mean, they really go into detail, you know, eaten by fish, and how is the Resurrection going to happen? And I said, “Well, no. The God who can create everything out of nothing and sustains this world can reconstitute a body out of whatever may be left or may not be left.”

So the promise is in Resurrection, he chooses to, because he is a God of redemption, take whatever is there in – as far as remains – and reconstitute – work that into his process of glorification. So what happens to the body does not affect God’s promise of Resurrection. There are, however, I will say in light of what we believe about what a person is, and in light of our future hope, more Christian ways, things that are better representatives of our Christian hope, I guess confessions of our faith in what God is doing than others. So it’s more –

Kymberli Cook
So we should think about how we handle the body as more of a confession –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Correct –
Kymberli Cook
– of what we believe than rather than having something truly –
Dr. Michael Svigel
– and a testimony to others as well.
Kymberli Cook
– affect the life of our loved one. Yes. Okay, so with that settled, just making sure, because that’s a big question for some people.
Dr. Michael Svigel
It is, and –
Kymberli Cook
And that’s a terrifying question if you haven’t, you know, been instructed and thought through.
Dr. Michael Svigel
It’s – exactly, and also there have been, you know, periods in history where they – where people thought that, well, if we burn someone at the stake or burn their remains, that’ll prevent them from being resurrected. There were those ideas out there, but those aren’t really sustainable.
Kymberli Cook
So it seems to me that there’s three options, at least here in America, in the research that I did. There are three options for handling the remains of a loved one, and it really is burial, cremation, or donation. And so I think we should – go ahead.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, well, the donation part is – it’s very uncommon that someone wills their entire body to, say, science. People say, “I’m gonna leave my body to science.” It’s not common. Maybe it’ll become more common. The main decisions most people have for loved ones is burial or cremation. But I’m an organ donor, and I don’t know if anybody will want my organs afterwards or whatever, but that’s – that is something that people have to consider as well. But even then, if you’re an organ donor, for instance, there’s still gonna be a decision that needs to be made with the rest of my physical remains.
Kymberli Cook
Yes, yes, that’s true. That’s true. All right, so let’s start with burial because that has, it seems, been historically the preferred, I guess, way to say – way that Christians have handled their loved ones and the bodies. So tell me a little bit about that.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, and it varies, of course, from culture to culture. Most watching this are going to be in the North American culture. So we’ll talk about that first, but I will make some other mentions because it does – we do need to realize our practices are unique, especially, for instance, here we – the idea of burial is you are lying a person in a state of rest, and that Paul talks about, “Don’t mourn,” you know, “like those who have no hope or but those who have fallen asleep.” And the image of falling asleep implies one day, they’re going to awaken.

And so it’s an important metaphor, and lying in repose and rest, that helps. It’s the last image a person has oftentimes in a funeral, in a traditional funeral, where the casket is closed, and we see a person at peace and rest oftentimes. That’s kind of important, and then their place in the grave, and the idea is as it comes from the Bible, “As a seed is planted, one day that’s going to come and be resurrected.” In America, the – and that’s the ancient tradition, though not exactly like that throughout Biblical history, especially.

In America, we do embalming most of the time, which preserves the remains for much, much longer than traditionally. In many countries and ancient times, a body was buried very quickly, and then the process of – don’t want to get into a lot of detail, but decomposition reduces the body to its elements and to bones, and then eventually in a grave after about 50 to 100 years, to really nothing, so there’s not much left at that time. So that’s the normal process that’s expected. In fact, if someone were to ask me, I would say I prefer it, perhaps, because of the long tradition and because of the image of the rest and repose that it portrays.

Kymberli Cook
What do you make of arguments that – I’ve seen some arguments where people say, “Well, our – the Biblical examples were that people were buried,” you know, such as Sarah and Abraham, and so that’s why we should do it. What do you think of those arguments?
Dr. Michael Svigel
That’s okay. I think it’s – they did that in contrast to the – a pagan disregard or disdain for the body, which was burning and getting rid of in ways that were not respectful to the body. It was more respectful, but then you also have to take a look at the – reckon with the real history. A body was often laid in a tomb or something, and it would decompose. The bones, then, were often collected and placed in a common pit sometimes with the rest of the bones of the ancestors, and they lost the, in a sense, the distinct identity. They became kinda one with the relatives. Sometimes, the bones were literally folded up and placed in an ossuary, a container with the name on it and retain the identity.

We don’t really do that, even though archaeologists and others have shown this was a practice in the, you know, early Hebrew, Ancient Near Eastern customs. Catacombs were also common, so there were a lot of things that happened during biblical and New Testament times that we don’t do. Everything, all of the practices are done in a certain culture and in a certain context, right? So I would say, again, it’s a – it is the clear example. Does that mean it’s the only option in our own culture and context? That’s a valid question.

Kymberli Cook
So the other option that most people have before them would be cremation, and that – if you even search Christianity or Christian cremation, something like that online, you will get a vast –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Large number of opinions on that, definitely.
Kymberli Cook
And a lot of them are quite negative. Why do you think that is?
Dr. Michael Svigel
Probably because of the biblical example, which is understandable. It is an ancient and historic custom. Again, though, the practice is very different than how we practice burial with embalming and such in the United States, anyway. The – so that’s a main reason. Also, sometimes they’ll say that the process of cremation is disrespectful to the body, and I would encourage people – we won’t discuss it here, but I would encourage them to look into the different practices and what’s involved, especially in their particular context. But the idea of burning something – in Scripture, you burn – the condemned are burned, and, you know, Hades or Gehenna or trash is burned, and the associations there. And so I get it, and we do have to think about that, that context. On the other hand, we have to be honest.

In the end, if you were to practice a classic burial of a body in a grave, after about 10, 20 years, the body is reduced to bones, and after about 50 to 75 years or so, those bones are reduced to elements of – the basic elements, and it is a process of ultimately oxidation, to be, sorry, to bring in technical terms like this, which is ultimately the same process that occurs in a cremation, except the cremation oxidation process takes one to two hours. So in the end, what you have is roughly the same elements of the body.

And so now the question, really, I think is what are the motives behind it, and then what are you going to do with these remains that you have left? I think that’s really the question. Cremation’s not going to go away. In some countries – we’ve been talking mostly about the North American context – there really aren’t options. Cremation oftentimes is the only option, or – unless you’re wealthy, rich, and can afford something else.

Kymberli Cook
A much more affordable option, and there’s a lot of – I think there – and not a lot, but there’s also an argument out there that it’s a greener option, you know, in our day and concern about environment and that kind of thing.
Dr. Michael Svigel
That is also a case, reality that the space, obviously, the process is much more expensive. I would say that should be low down on our list of priorities as Christians, how much – you know, which is the cheaper cost. But, you know, the process of cremation itself is – does have some questions of, you know, how green that is and some of the products of that. But in the end, the remains that a person would preserve in an urn, for instance, there’s very little regulation regarding those because they really aren’t harmful. They are fairly neutral with regard to they’re – you know, they’re not toxic. They’re not dangerous, and yeah, easy to preserve.
Kymberli Cook
So is it possible to confess a belief in the physical, bodily resurrection, and practice cremation?
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yes, I think it is. It’s in the same way that – let me give you a personal example. My – when I was a young child – I was five years old – I had an older brother who passed away from leukemia. He was 11, and my parents bought a plot of land for burial, and he had a traditional burial, and at the same time, I’m not exactly sure why they did this, but they basically bought plots for mom and dad right next to the same plot. So the – clearly the traditional burial is confessing there is a future for these remains. There’s a name here, a memorial, and we are confessing that this, what is here is related to that person. It is part of that person. My father recently passed away, and my parents had since moved to Arkansas, and obviously, to get the remains from Arkansas to Minnesota, where my brother is buried, that’s fairly complicated.
Kymberli Cook
Complex, yeah.
Dr. Michael Svigel
And so my father and mother chose to have his remains cremated and then transported up to Minnesota to be interred in the grave. In that process, in the end, we are still treating those remains as these are the remains of my father. They are being buried. The identity is being preserved just like his son, who is buried – will be buried next to him. And in both cases, by attaching an identity to those remains for as long as that memorial remains, we are confessing that this is related to that person, and there is a future. It is an act of confession of faith retaining the identity. So I would – number one, I would say it is probably best Christian practice to retain the identity of those remains, whether it’s cremation or burial.
Kymberli Cook
Now what are some ways – so let’s says a Christian family did choose a cremation option, and they were seeking to preserve the identity, so that would eliminate certain things that seem – that, you know –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, very common in vogue –
Kymberli Cook
– you see in all the movies and that kind of thing as far as handling yes.
Dr. Michael Svigel
– and spreading ashes, pouring ashes in rivers or lakes. I have heard Christians doing that as well. I sometimes wonder if they’ve thought through it very carefully, or they’re honoring the wishes of a person who is deceased that wanted that. Most of the time, as I’ve been able to engage or share things I’ve written on this with families facing this decision, they back away from that, the practice of distributing ashes or pouring them. This was more kind of a confession of not a Christian worldview where the body just recycles. You know, we just mix it in and it –
Kymberli Cook
We’re all one.
Dr. Michael Svigel
– recycles with the creation, and it’s more of a pantheistic confession that you see in the Eastern religions. As they are exposed to a better doctrine of the body and our hope of resurrection, most Christians will back away from the idea of just simply distributing or disposing of that kind of language of the remains. But now what do you do, right? That’s the question with these remains. An urn with the name on it is – that’s one step. Sometimes, it just stays there, and the urn is done. They put it somewhere.

My father-in-law in Germany was cremated and then buried in a plot. That’s very common for Christians, so there is an identity marker, the person’s identity, but the remains. It’s a little bit smaller box, and those remains are preserved that way. Those are the main options. I would caution – again, God is going to resurrect whatever. We’re not endangering –

Kymberli Cook
He’s fully capable.
Dr. Michael Svigel
– someone’s physical salvation, but as a confession of faith and resurrection, retaining the identity of the remains in some sort of burial or internment of some sort is better, I think.
Kymberli Cook
So that leads us to donation. And there’s really – as you talked about in the beginning, there’s really two situations. There’s the donation of organs, and for the sake of another’s health, and then there is, it’s just a general donation of one’s body to science. And let’s do – let’s talk about the general donation first.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Of the whole body?
Kymberli Cook
Yes, yes. What are your thoughts on that, because I, as you know, as we’ve discussed with the cremation, if the idea is to keep an identity linked, that would be where I would question that, and I – but at the same time, it is still valuing the body in a sense.
Dr. Michael Svigel
In a sense, yeah.
Kymberli Cook
And so I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, I – again, it’s hard for me to make decisions for other people.
Kymberli Cook
Certainly, yes.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Personally, again, based on everything we’ve just said about the Christian’s confession of the body, oftentimes, people who flippantly, sometimes jokingly, say, “I’ll just donate my body to science,” you hear that, it often is through the effect of a view of the body that is not quite Christian, that it is just disposable. It is just whatever practically is best. So if it’s motivated by that, I want to challenge that belief about the body. And then that might lead some people to maybe want their body treated in a way that confesses its value and resurrection. There is – there are others who will say, “Look, if people can get – learn something and help others through research with the body, that’s great.”

Sometimes, though, you – I mean, you sometimes lose control of what will ultimately happen, and some of the things that are done with human bodies that are donated to science are not what we would call treating the body with dignity, and they may be genuine scientific pursuits. But I would challenge people to explore that, research that, and ask, “Is this potential use of this body showing dignity? Is it confessing what we believe about the person’s identity and that relationship to that body or not?” And I don’t want to get into it. Some of them can get pretty gross, discussing what happens sometimes in forensic labs and things like that. So I would generally caution against it, and for me, personally, that wouldn’t really be an option.

Kymberli Cook
And it seems that that’s more of a – that’s personal decision more than what you would be making for –
Dr. Michael Svigel
For another person.
Kymberli Cook
– for another person. Yes.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Right. Yeah, that should be –
Kymberli Cook
You likely would never have that option.
Dr. Michael Svigel
– let me just say again, and I’ll probably say it again, too, but it is good to make your wishes known, so that they don’t have to make emotional decisions or uninformed decisions, and let your loved ones know what your preference would be.
Kymberli Cook
So when it would come to donating one’s organs –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Organs, correct.
Kymberli Cook
– then it seems that that, you know, you’re able to help people, but you’re right. It seems that there would still be remains to honor and still make a sort of confession.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, almost always, there are going to be remains of the remains. So it’s a heart donation or a lung or some different organs that are donated for the sake of someone else. And my wife is a nurse and used to work at a heart/lung transplant floor, and I know many people – many of us know people who have been on donor lists waiting for, you know, donations. And you can – it – through a person’s death, provide prolonged life for someone else. As I said, I kinda tip my hand. I am an organ donor, and if that happens, I feel okay about that. In the end, even those organs are going to die. But we still have to make the decision now with the rest of the body what’s going to happen, burial or cremation?
Kymberli Cook
If somebody were looking for some sort of resources on this, where would you send them? Have you found any? You said you’ve written a little bit on it. You faced a little bit with your own family situations. Are there places to look?
Dr. Michael Svigel
I probably should’ve come with some. I’m not aware of any ready – good treatments that I would say are thorough and balanced, I suppose. I do have a little essay online that I’ve done, just basic, couple points and counterpoints. And I land kinda where I’m describing here. There’s – you really do have those two options. The question is what do you do with the remains afterwards, really is the question. I would say consult with your pastor, your leader of the church in counseling, determining what they’re comfortable with. I would say also explore the processes so that you’re not making uninformed decisions. Also, a robust theology of the body and a proper understanding of our future hope, being resurrection, as well. Those things, I think, I’m not sure could fill a whole book, you know.
Kymberli Cook
Maybe that’s why it seems –
Dr. Michael Svigel
So I don’t know if I would –
Kymberli Cook
– like it’s a little bit of a –
Dr. Michael Svigel
– maybe, right.
Kymberli Cook
– gap ’cause it’s a little bit more than a blog post.
Dr. Michael Svigel
It’s more of a –
Kymberli Cook
– but less than a book.
Dr. Michael Svigel
– multipage brochure to kind of give you the – and in the end, you can’t make a decision for someone else. Now, there are religious traditions where the decision is made for you if you’re part of that, and then obviously that’s to be considered and respected. Most of the time in the United States, we have to make that decision as a family.
Kymberli Cook
So just kind of to wrap it up, we – when we’re seeking to think Christianly about death and handling the remains of our loved ones, we need to recognize that the material world matters, that we do not mourn as those without hope, but we do mourn as those who recognize that something has been broken and ripped and the proper theology of the body. But we also recognize that there are legitimate ways to handle the remains of our loved ones beyond burial as long as there are certain steps that are taken – confessional steps that are taken. And I feel like you’re saying predominantly, that they would be identifying – making sure that the remains are identified. Is there anything else –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah, I would say –
Kymberli Cook
– in that confession?
Dr. Michael Svigel
– that’s true. Yeah, identifying the remains because you’re confessing, no, this person – this is that person, part of that person, and there’s a future hope for that person, and confessing that through either burial marker or some other means. You know, ideally I counsel if someone is – needs to be cremated for whatever reason or is cremated, chooses that, I keep the remains identified and then inter that person’s remains in a plot that is marked. That would be my preference if a person chooses cremation. And also, I would add to that – be aware that a lot of these questions, options are either expanded or limited depending on where you are in the world and what the circumstances of a person’s death might be, and so you need to think about that as well.

In my wife’s home country of Germany, it’s very, very, very expensive to purchase a plot that lasts forever. You lease a plot, and they don’t embalm, and after about 50 years, they basically bury someone else there, and that’s unheard of for us here. But realize that the questions and decisions you make are going to be different depending on where you are even in our own country, and so keep that in mind as well.

Kymberli Cook
And Christianity and thinking Biblically and theologically about that offers that kind of flexibility –
Dr. Michael Svigel
Yeah. You’re coming at it with some principles, right.
Kymberli Cook
– and that we don’t have to enforce this one view.
Dr. Michael Svigel
Right, correct.
Kymberli Cook
All right. Well, thank you so much for joining us and for suggesting this topic. I think and I hope it will be really helpful for people who are either –
Dr. Michael Svigel
That’s my hope.
Kymberli Cook
– just thinking about the topic or, you know, are really facing it and having to think through it in the midst of having to deal with some other things, as well. Thank you for being here –
Dr. Michael Svigel
I appreciate it. Thank you.
Kymberli Cook
– and thank you for everybody who’s listening, and if you have any topics that you would like to suggest, please feel free to email us at thetable@dts.edu. Again, that’s thetable@dts.edu, and please join us next time as we discuss issues of God and culture.
Read More
Kymberli Cook
Kymberli Cook is a doctoral student in Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and serves as the Senior Administrator at the Hendricks Center, overseeing Cultural Engagement events and efforts, pastoral relationships, and creative design. She holds a Master of Theology from DTS and resides in Dallas with her husband and daughter.
Michael J. Svigel
Department Chair and Professor of Theology and Church History, patristic scholar, writer, husband and father, accordion player. Passionate about the church and her Lord.
Bible
Aug 13, 2019
Douglas MooDouglas MooDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock
How English Bibles are Made In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock and Douglas Moo discuss the realities and challenges of producing Bible translations.
Ministry
Aug 6, 2019
Amy HallAmy HallGreg KouklGreg KouklMikel Del RosarioMikel Del Rosario
Approaching Spiritual Conversations In this episode, Mikel Del Rosario, Greg Koukl, and Amy Hall discuss helping Christians have meaningful spiritual conversations with people who see Christianity differently.