Resources | Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Death and Dying

As a church, we’ve learned a lot about death over these last 6 weeks- how we should look at death as gain, embrace aging and suffering, the importance of grieving, and how to live our lives in light of our future death. It’s been a great discussion, one we hope that continues.

But out of this series there have been many commonly asked questions regarding certain aspects of death- both the preparations before and after and the way in which someone dies. We want to address several of these questions and provide as much clarity as we can and leave you with some additional resources.

Does it matter whether I choose to be cremated or buried?

Ultimately, we do not believe it matters whether a person is cremated or buried. Whether one’s body is cremated or buried, both will end up, as the Bible says, “as dust.” We do know that the body is precious — God created the body (Gen. 2:7) and He will resurrect the body (1 Cor. 15). A major tenet of our hope as believers is anticipating our resurrection and redemption of our own bodies (Rom. 8:23-24). And we know that there will be continuity between what we were like in our physical bodies here and what we will be like in our physical, resurrected bodies in heaven.

Some believers are fearful around this issue and may make absolute what the Bible does not make absolute. The Bible neither condones nor condemns the act of cremation explicitly, and thus we should be careful about being clearer than the Scriptures. Biblically, there is a pattern of burying your loved ones as a sign you believe in the resurrection. However, as best we can see according to the Scripture, this is more a symbolic custom and is thus descriptive, rather than prescriptive.

Usually the decision of whether one wants to be buried or cremated is made before a person dies, and often the individual will have expressed their preference to family members. There are multiple factors that may go into this decision, such as location, family precedent, local culture, and finances. But biblically speaking, there are no biblical reasons why one should prefer burial or cremation. Christians should feel freedom to choose what they deem best. For help thinking through this decision for yourself, consider the following questions:

Why do you want to be buried/cremated? Why do you not want the alternative?

-Do you recognize and affirm the importance and value God has given to the physical nature body?
-Do you believe that it will one day be resurrected? Do you recognize that a believer’s bodily resurrection will surely happen regardless of whether they are cremated or buried?
-Are there any extenuating legal, medical, environmental, or otherwise important circumstances involved?
->Have you discussed the possibility of cremation/burial with your spouse and family, considering their thoughts and concerns?

What about organ donation?

Similar to the hesitation regarding cremation mentioned above, some believers are fearful to agree to organ donation because of their hope in the resurrection — anticipating the bodily resurrection, it may be difficult to reconcile the idea of donating one’s physical organs and still being able to be resurrected when the Lord returns. But as Matt Williams made the case in the series’ concluding sermon: “If God can imagine you and create you from nothing, he can re-imagine you and re-create you.”

Christian physician John Dunlop shares the following perspective in his book, Finishing Well to the Glory of God:

“At or shortly before the time of death, the question of whether to donate organs will often be asked. When the deceased has previously indicated a desire to be an organ donor, his wishes should be followed. It seems tragic when what might be the patient’s last request is not honored. If one is a registered organ donor (often indicated on a driver’s license), some states will proceed with organ donation automatically while others still require permission form the power of attorney or next of kin. Too often I have seen survivors ignore their loved one’s wish to be an organ do not. When asked for their permission, sometimes a family refuses, saying something such as, ‘Don’t bother me with that; I have many other things on my mind.’ ”

So it is an important conversation to have; it is important for one to express his or her wishes to family, and it is also important for surviving loved ones to honor the wishes of the deceased regarding this issue.

What is a living will? Is it the same as a last will? What steps can I take to get these made?

We have a responsibility to teach and prepare our families for death. A couple of the ways we can do that practically is by securing a living will and a last will.

A living will is an official, written document detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in various circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent. Generally, a living will lists certain life-prolonging treatments and gives one the opportunity to indicate which treatments they do or do not want applied in the event they are unable to communicate their intentions. A living will only becomes effective when one is incapacitated beyond reasonable hope for substantial recovery. For situations in which a person is incapacitated but still not in such dire health that the living will is enacted, it may be helpful to have a health care power of attorney. This legal document gives a particular person of your prior choosing the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf.

A living will is different from a last will (more commonly referred to simply as a will). Simply put, a last will is used to distribute property to beneficiaries, specify last wishes, and name guardians for minor children.  While it clearly becomes more important after you have children, the truth is that anyone who has accumulated some assets should have a basic will. If you don’t have one, everything you leave behind after your death will be divided up and settled by the courts making these critical decisions for you.

To create a living will or last will, you can set an appointment with any local practicing attorney. You can also create a legally-binding living will by using estate planning software, such as Nolo’s WillMaker Plus. Nolo also has an online legal form to help with creating a basic last will. For a more detailed overview, including direction on drafting your own estate documents (should you choose to do so), see the following article.

How are we to think about suicide? Can someone who commits suicide still go to heaven?

Matt Williams addressed this question briefly in the third sermon of our series, “Drawing Near: Aging & Suffering.”

It is not entirely wrong for someone to look forward to death — in fact we saw that Paul was looking forward to his own death when we studied Philippians 1:21 because he was anticipating being with Christ. However, whenever someone’s perspective is oriented around death being an ultimate thing, and even taking steps toward securing their own death, then they no longer have a biblically healthy view of death. Even Paul, though he knew his death would bring him closer to Christ and relieve him of his suffering, did not take it upon himself to bring about his death via suicide.

For more on the ideas of death and autonomy, please see Chrystie Cole’s post “My Death is Not My Own.”

What happens to infants who die? What about those who are mentally ill?

In the final sermon from our series, Matt Williams addressed these questions by appealing to the surpassing nature of God’s infinite compassion. Ultimately, he reminds us, we can trust God with our great and difficult questions and trust that our Father in heaven truly is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

Does Grace have any ministry support for those going through the grieving and mourning process?

As a credible next step flowing from our teaching in our series in death and dying, Grace Church has launched a new ministry called GriefShare. GriefShare groups will meet weekly to help you face some of the current challenges surrounding the death of a loved one and help you move toward rebuilding your life. Each GriefShare session has three distinct elements: video seminars, group discussions, and a personal workbook.

Watch the video below to hear more about how GriefShare groups and the importance of the grieving process.