For four hundred years while the Israelites endured slavery in Egypt, every time they walked past Joseph’s grave, they remembered the promise that one day they’d take those bones to the Promised Land. Joseph’s bones were a visible reminder of God’s promise to the Israelites. Our grave is a reminder to all who pass by that these bones will one day be raised. Every cemetery is a testimony. Every tombstone is a reminder. Every dead body is a promise waiting to be fulfilled.
The postmodern axiom that utilitarianism is the highest virtue has been part of the reason some faithful Christians are opting for cremation when they die. Cemeteries, after all, take up precious land. Others opt for cremation because it is usually less than half the cost of burial. And still others choose to be cremated because cemeteries are just too eerie. They would rather be spread over their favorite mountainside than reside in a macabre cemetery. One man put his father’s ashes in a finger hole of his bowling ball, so his dad would be with him when he bowled a perfect game.
Environmental enthusiasts affirm California recently joining Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Vermont in legalizing human composting. After all, according to one estimate, cremation releases an average of 534.6 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air per body, totaling 360,000 metric tons of greenhouse gasses a year just in the U.S.
In composting, the body is put in a container and covered with straw, wood chips and alfalfa that allows microbes to break down the body in about 30 days. After curing for another 2-6 weeks, the family can use the cubic yard of composted-loved one to fertilize their flower bed.
Composting denies that each individual is a special creation made in God’s own image and precious in God’s sight. Treating the body as nothing more than part of the material world, denies the uniqueness and worth of each individual. Composting is not a new idea although its widening acceptance is new.
In the 1958 movie Houseboat, widower Cary Grant teaches his son the meaning of death. Holding a pitcher of water while they sit on the side of his houseboat, Grant tells his son, “The pitcher has no use at all except as the container of something. In this case a container for water which you can think of as my life-force.” Pouring the water into the river, Grant explains, “The river is like the universe, you haven’t lost it [life-force/water]. It’s just that everything constantly changes. So perhaps when our life-force, our souls, leave our bodies they go back into God’s universe and the security of becoming part of all life again, all nature.” In other words, the human body is just matter that can be recycled into a tree or garden.
Radical Feminist Rosemary Radford Reuther in the 1980s describes what happens in death in more academic prose:
[O]ur existence ceases as individuated ego-organism and dissolves back into the cosmic matrix of matter/energy, from which new centers of the individuation arise. It is the matrix, rather than our individuated centers of being, that is ‘everlasting,’ that subsists underneath the coming to be and passing away of individuated beings and even planetary worlds.
I recently explained to my young grandson that in the past churches often had cemeteries located next to them. As people entered the church, they were reminded that life on this earth is short, thus forcing them to adjust their earthly priorities in light of the eternal. I asked my grandson what it would mean if the church had a swimming pool next door rather than a cemetery. He answered, “Life is short, enjoy it while you can.” Perhaps that’s another reason for composting. The dead are out of sight and we can get on with our fun.
Composting and even cremation destroy the individual. They deny the truth in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”. They deny Scripture’s truth, “For he [God] chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons….”