[For sections 1-5 in this essay, read the previous two posts in December 2011.]
6. Does the body have value when nobody’s home?
From the foregoing considerations, the answer obviously is yes. The bodies of those who have died should be treated with respect and even a kind of reverence because at the shout of Christ (John 5:25-29) they shall be raised either to incorruptible glory or to inconceivable horror.
We see the importance of the body in God’s condemnation of the pagan nation Moab “Because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime” (Amos 2:1). This is not a blanket condemnation of cremation. Enemy soldiers disinterred the king’s bones and burned them to lime, which could then be used for plaster. Their offense was desecrating the body of the dead king.
Greek and Roman philosophy tended to disregard the body as the prison house of the soul, and cremation was common, especially among the Roman nobility. In this context, the church insisted on the burial of the dead as a testimony to the importance of the body and its future resurrection. However, the Bible does not forbid cremation, and the disintegration of the body by fire or by natural decomposition is no hindrance to the resurrection. The body is like a seed which must die in order to grow into a mature plant (1 Corinthians 15:35-43). If cremation is viewed as a means of disposing of an unwanted corpse, it may be an act of desecration (except perhaps during a plague or when large numbers of decomposing bodies threaten public health). Normally, however, people treat the cremated remains of their relatives with loving care. In such cases there is no Scriptural objection to cremation.
If a dead body is to be treated with respect, certainly the body of a comatose patient should receive considerate care. In my view, that care should continue as long as life endures, but the life of the body need not be maintained indefinitely when the brain functions necessary for consciousness have ceased and cannot be restored.