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Ashes to Ashes?

Are cremation and organ donations biblically acceptable?

My cousin died of cancer a few months ago. She said she wanted to be cremated, which really upset me. What does the Bible teach about this?

—Mary Ann Thomas, Lake City, Florida

After we die, is it okay to donate our organs or give our bodies to science and medical research? Or do we need to be physically buried in a casket in order to be "raised to life" when Jesus returns? If donating my organs could save someone else's life, I'd really like to do that. But what does God say?

—Angie, via e-mail

A. These are questions worth pondering. As Christians, we understand that every human was created in the image of God, so we care about both the physical and spiritual well being of each individual. What's more, the Incarnation—Jesus' life, death, and resurrection—tells us that God has ascribed unique value to our bodily existence. That said, there's nothing in Scripture that specifies how we are to be buried. Nor does the Bible say anything that would forbid cremation or organ donation. Though Christian tradition through the centuries seems to favor a straightforward burial, there is no biblical mandate that a body be buried. In fact, looking at the different methods of handling the deceased throughout history, it would seem the matter is more cultural than spiritual.

The Bible teaches that after we die, we will be physically resurrected, given new and perfect bodies (Phil. 3:21). "For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven … and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever" (1 Thess. 4:15-17; see also 1 Cor. 15).

But there's nothing to indicate that God has to have our old body to work with. After all, even the most carefully preserved remains disintegrate eventually. And what about people who die in explosions or fires or are lost at sea? If their physical bodies can't be recovered, does that mean they can't go to heaven? Of course not.

What matters when we die is the state of our soul—that's what lives on forever. If you belong to Jesus, then when you die, your spirit goes to be with Him (see 2 Cor. 5:6-10). How you or your family choose to dispose of your physical remains is really up to you. If God has put a desire in your heart to donate your organs to save the lives of others, by all means, do it. The body you have now is only of use to you in this life. As a follower of Christ, you'll receive an upgrade in the life to come.

Christin Ditchfield is the host of the syndicated radio program Take It To Heart, and the author of A Family Guide to Narnia: Biblical Truths in C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia (Crossway).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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