Back to Dust—How?
“DUST you are and to dust you will return.” When the first man, Adam, heard those words, he knew what to expect. He had been made from the dust of the ground and would return to nothing more than dust. He would die because he had disobeyed his Creator, Jehovah God.—Genesis 2:7, 15-17; 3:17-19.
The Bible shows that humans are made of dust. It also says: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4; Psalm 103:14) Death has brought grief to millions and has repeatedly raised questions about the disposing of human remains.
Past and Present Practices
How were human remains disposed of among God’s people of ancient times? In its early pages, the Bible mentions various ways of dealing with the dead, including burial in the ground. (Genesis 35:8) The patriarch Abraham and his wife, Sarah, as well as their son Isaac and grandson Jacob were buried in the cave of Machpelah. (Genesis 23:2, 19; 25:9; 49:30, 31; 50:13) Israelite judges Gideon and Samson were buried ‘in the burial places of their fathers.’ (Judges 8:32; 16:31) This suggests that having family grave sites was preferred among the ancient people of God. When Jesus Christ died in the first century C.E., his body was laid in a newly hewn rock tomb. (Matthew 27:57-60) Generally, then, human remains were buried in the earth or were entombed. This is still the practice in most places around the earth.
In some parts of the world today, however, a serious shortage of space and the high cost of land are making it increasingly difficult to obtain burial sites. Therefore, some people are considering other ways of disposing of human remains.
Scattering the ashes after the cremation of human remains is becoming more common. In England about 40 percent of the dead are now cared for in this manner. In Sweden, where over 80 percent of the deceased in urban areas are cremated, certain woodlands are designated for the scattering of ashes. And in Shanghai and a few other maritime cities of China, city governments sponsor mass scatterings at sea several times a year.
Where can ashes be scattered? Not just any place. Some may fear that scattering the ashes is detrimental to the environment. Actually, though, any possible risk of epidemics is nullified through cremation. Certain cemeteries in England and memorial parks in the United States set aside lawn areas or flower gardens as scattering grounds. Of course, Christians are especially concerned about the Scriptural view of cremation and the scattering of ashes.
What Is the Scriptural View?
In a pronouncement against “the king of Babylon,” the prophet Isaiah said: “You have been thrown away without a burial place for you.” (Isaiah 14:4, 19) Should the scattering of ashes be compared to such a case of humiliation? No, for there is no reference to cremation and the preservation or the scattering of the resulting ashes.
Jesus Christ spoke of the earthly resurrection of the dead that will take place during his Millennial Reign when he said: “All those in the memorial tombs will hear [my] voice and come out.” (John 5:28, 29) However, that a specific grave is not necessarily required to resurrect a person is borne out in another prophetic description of the resurrection. Revelation 20:13 states: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades gave up those dead in them.” So, what matters is not where or how a person ‘returns to dust.’ Rather, it is whether he is remembered by God and is resurrected. (Job 14:13-15; compare Luke 23:42, 43.) Jehovah certainly does not need impressive tombs to help him remember people. Cremation does not prevent a person’s resurrection. And if the scattering of ashes is done with a proper motive and without false religious ceremonies, it would not be incompatible with the Scriptures.
Those who decide in favor of scattering the ashes will need to pay attention to the law of the land. It would also be appropriate for them to take into account the feelings of the bereaved and others. Servants of Jehovah will do well to be careful that exercising their Scriptural freedom in this regard does not bring reproach upon the good name Christians bear. This is especially important in lands where cremation and the scattering of ashes are legally permissible but not yet fully accepted in the community. Of course, a Christian will stay away from any rites or customs based on the belief in the immortality of the human soul.
Full Freedom From the Grave!
Some who advocate the scattering of ashes say that it means freedom from burial in graves. Bringing the greatest relief, however, will be the fulfillment of the Bible’s promise that “as the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.”—1 Corinthians 15:24-28.
This means that graves, tombs, even cremation and the scattering of ashes, will become things of the past. Yes, death will be no more. Under divine inspiration the apostle John wrote: “I heard a loud voice from the throne say: ‘Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his peoples. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.’”—Revelation 21:3, 4.
All of this will come about when human death resulting from Adam’s sin is completely done away with under God’s Kingdom. At that time obedient mankind will not be faced with the prospect of returning to the dust.
[Pictures on page 29]
Common methods of handling human remains
[Picture on page 31]
Scattering ashes in Sagami Bay, Japan
Courtesy of Koueisha, Tokyo