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Book excerpts, Book Reviews, People we should know, Teen non-fiction

Edith Cavell: a brave guide

Some 150 years ago, on December 4, 1865, English woman Edith Cavell was born. And 100 years ago, on October 12, 1915, during the First World War, she was executed. Instilled with a desire to please her Creator God, Edith Cavell became a nurse; she lived what she professed, and died bravely at the hands of German soldiers. Her crime? Assisting Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. In a seemingly hopeless situation, she persevered and did not shun the victor's crown. She was a gift given by God to His Son Jesus Christ and, as such, saved for eternal life. Throughout the fifty years of Edith Cavell's life, she was content to work hard and live humbly. She was a godly woman and, therefore, a godly historical example. The Bible instructs us to teach our children about such historical examples. Psalm 78:4 reads: "We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might, and the wonders that He has done." At a time in history when examples of godly women are few and far between, much needed strength and encouragement can be drawn from the life of this lady who put all her trust in Jesus Christ, her Savior. 
 The following is an excerpt from the Christine Farenhorst historical fiction novel of Edith Cavell’s life, called A Cup of Cold Water, (P&R Publishing, 2007). At this point Edith has been helping many Allied soldiers escape out of German territory.

***

December 4, 1914 - Brussels, Belgium Breakfast was generally served at an early hour in the L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, the Belgian School of Lay Nurses. Too early some of the nurses said. “It is actually 7 o’clock, you know,” José said at 6 o’clock one morning, as he bit into a thin piece of toast. Puzzled, everyone stared at him and he went on. “The Germans changed our time yesterday. We are now on German time and no longer on Belgian time. All the public clocks have been put ahead.” “Well, I’m not going to pay the slightest bit of attention,” Gracie said, glancing at her wristwatch, “That’s just plain silly.” “Well maybe,” Pauline added hopefully, “we should get up later.” She eyed Edith but Edith was looking at cook in the doorway. “Excuse me, Madame,” the cook said, “there is someone to see you in the kitchen.” Edith got up, wiped her mouth on a napkin and left the dining room quietly after glancing at Elisabeth Wilkins. Elisabeth nodded to her, indicating that she would supervise while Edith was gone. Two more Louise Thuliez, one of the resistance workers Edith had come to know, was waiting in the kitchen. She had come in through the back entrance. Brown hair hidden under a kerchief, the young woman was obviously relieved when Edith walked in. Ushering her through the hall towards her own office, Edith could feel the woman’s tenseness. As soon as the door closed behind them, Louise spoke. There was urgency in her tone. “I have two men waiting to come to the clinic.” Edith nodded. “Fine. Direct them here. I’ll see to them.” Louise nodded, brusquely put out her hand, which Edith shook, and disappeared. Left alone in her small office, Edith passed her right hand over her forehead in a gesture of weariness. Running a hospital in peacetime was not easy, but running it in wartime, with mounting bills for food and medicines which would never be paid by the patients, was next to impossible. She had received some money from Reginald de Cröy and Monsieur Capiau but the men who had been sent to her regularly since Monsieur Capiau’s first appearance all had hearty appetites. Resources were at the breaking point. With a glance at the calendar, she saw it was her birthday and with a pang she realized that it would be the first year she had not received letters from Mother, Flo, Lil, Jack and cousin Eddie. She swallowed. Jack growled softly and she looked out the window. Two men were approaching the walkway. Bracing herself, she smoothed her hair, patted the dog and went out into the hall to await their knock. Although most of the men sent to the school only stayed one or two nights, some of them stayed a longer. As Edith awaited the arrival of the new refugees, she wondered how long she would need to provide them with shelter. If they were ill, they would be nursed right alongside German patients. Many of the nurses in the school were unaware of what was going on. All they saw were extra patients — bandaged, limping and joking patients. The Café Chez Jules was situated right next to the school. To recuperating soldiers, as well as to idle men with nothing to do for a few days, it became a favorite gathering place. The Café served watered-down wine and at its tables the men played cards, chatted and lounged about. But even if the Germans were not yet suspicious, word quickly spread around the Belgian neighborhood that Allied soldiers were hiding in the nursing school. Once again, as she had done so often, Edith opened the door. A short, thickset man looked Edith full in the face. “My name is Captain Tunmore, sole survivor of the First Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment.” He spoke with a heavy English accent. “And this,” Captain Tunmore went on, indicating the man at his side, “is Private Lewis of the Cheshire Regiment. Password is yorc. We’re both looking to get across to border.” Edith shook their hands. They were a little nonplused that this small, frail-looking lady whose hand totally disappeared in their grasp, was rumored to be so tough. Captain Tunmore, noting a picture on the wall, remarked, “Hey, that’s Norwich Cathedral!” “Do you know Norwich?” Edith asked. “It’s my home. I was born on its outskirts.” Edith took another look at the man. The fact that he said that he was Norfolk born, gave her, for just a small moment, the feeling that she was home, that she was looking into her mother’s face. “Well, gentlemen,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’ll have to spend Christmas here with us as there is no guide to take you until after the twenty-fifth.”

***

Captain Tunmore and Private Lewis had come without identity cards. Edith, consequently, took photographs of the men herself and had contacts make identity cards for them. After Christmas, she arranged to have them travel towards Antwerp in a wagon but they were discovered and barely made it back safely to the clinic a few days later. Edith, therefore, prepared to guide them out of Brussels herself. “Gentlemen, be ready at dawn tomorrow. I’ll take you to the Louvain road. From there you’re on your own.” “I was thirsty…” At daybreak, Edith taking the lead and the men following her at a discreet distance, the trio made their way to a road outside of Brussels. Once there, Edith passed the soldiers a packet of food as well as an envelope of money. “In case you need to bribe someone – or in case you get a chance to use the railway,” she said. Shaking their hands once again, she turned and disappeared into the mist. On the walk back, Edith reminisced about how she had walked these very paths as a young governess with her young charges. It now seemed ages ago that they had frolicked about her, collecting insects, drawing, running and pulling at her arm to come and see some plant which they had found. Now she understood that God, in His infinite wisdom, had used that time to intimately acquaint her with this area. How very strange providence was! At the time she had sometimes felt, although she loved the children dearly, that her task as a governess was unimportant – trivial perhaps. Yet it had equipped her for the role she now played. Smiling to herself she thought, “Why am I surprised? After all, does not the Bible say that it is important to be faithful over a few things. A noise to her left interrupted her reverie and she slowed down. A German guard suddenly loomed next to her. “Halt! Papieren, bitte — Stop! Papers, please.” Silently she took them out and waited. He waved her on after a moment and she resumed her way. What would her father have thought about these activities, she wondered? “Out so early, my Edith?” she imagined him asking. “Yes, father. Just a little matter of helping some soldiers escape to the front lines. If they are found, you see, they’ll be sent to an internment camp somewhere, or they might be shot.” “What about you, my Edith?” “Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. And besides, what else can I do? These men, these refugee soldiers, father, they just come to me. They arrive on my doorstep and look so helpless, so afraid that I will turn them away.” “Well, my Edith, you are doing right. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, child: “I was thirsty and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.” “I remember, father. I remember.” “And in the end ... in the end, Edith, He will say ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” “I know, father.” No time for childhood Throughout the spring of that new year, 1915, Edith continued to rise early on the mornings that soldiers were to leave for the frontier. English, French, and Belgians – they were all men eager to leave so that they could help the Allies. Between five and seven in the morning, she would accompany the men to the planned rendezvous point with the next guide, generally a tramway terminus or a point in some street. Arriving back after one such venture, in the early days of March, she found Elisabeth waiting for her in her office with a very guilty-looking Pauline and José at her side. “What is the trouble?” Edith asked as she took off her coat. “Would you like me to tell her, or shall I?” Elisabeth’s voice was angry. José shuffled his feet but he met Edith’s gaze head-on. Then he spoke. “I encouraged all the families on Rue Darwin to set their alarm clocks at the same time. I told them to set it for six o’clock in the morning, the time I knew a single patrol would be passing.” He stopped. Edith sighed. “And,” she encouraged, “what happened?” “Well, when all the alarms went off at the same time, the soldier jumped a mile into the air. You should have seen– ” “Was anyone hurt?” Edith interrupted him. “No, no one,” Pauline took over, “everyone only let their alarms ring for five seconds exactly. After that they shut them off at the same time. It was deathly quiet in the streets and all the people watched the silly soldier through their curtains as he looked behind him and around corners and pointed his silly rifle at nothing. We laughed so hard.” Edith sat down. “Do you have any idea what could have happened if that soldier had shot up at a window? Or if he had kicked open a door and ...” She paused. They really had no idea about the seriousness of the times in which they were living. She sighed again and went on. Pauline looked down at the floor and José appeared fascinated with the wall. “You ought to know better than anyone, José, how dangerous it was what you did. After all, you have come with me many times to help soldiers find their way through and out of Brussels so that they can escape to safety. War is not a game.”

***

After they left her office, thoroughly chastened, Edith sat down at her desk, put her head into her hands and wept. Childhood seemed such a long way off and the Germans were stealing much more than blackberry pie. [caption id="attachment_11944" align="alignleft" width="1280"] Edith Cavell's death was memorialized on propaganda posters like this one.[/caption]

Dating, Parenting

Marriable Men

Two qualities dads should look for in boys who want to date our daughters

*****

Here's a topic that's best to get to too early rather than too late - what sort of men should our daughters marry? Dads are going to have a lot of input in this decision, one way or another. If we actively try to influence our daughters – by example, through conversation, and by requiring interested young men to talk to us first – we'll point them to a certain sort of man. And if we don't talk about what makes a man marriable, if we aren't a good example of a godly man and good husband, and if we have no role in our daughter's dating life, then we'll point them to another sort of man. What kind of man do we want for our daughters? The answer is simple when we keep the description broad: a man who loves the Lord, and will be a good leader to his wife and children, who’s hardworking, and also active in his church. But what does this type of man look like as a boy? If our daughters are dating and getting married young, they'll unavoidably have a "work in progress." That's a description that fits all of us – sanctification is a lifelong process – but which is even more true for a boy/man in his late teens who hasn't yet shouldered the responsibilities of providing for himself, let alone a family. It's hard, at this point, to take the measure of the man he will become. How do we evaluate potential suitors when there isn't a lot of track record to look back on? We need to find out how they react to light and to leadership. 1. Light

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21

Does a young man love the light? This is a characteristic that is easy for us dads to check up on. It's as simple as asking his parents if they know where he is on Friday and Saturday nights. Does he think it's no big deal to tell his parents where he will be? Or does he want to keep what he's up to a mystery? Does he have a problem with having his parents around when friends come over? Or has he introduced all his friends to them? When he goes out to other friends' houses does his group pick spots where parents are home? Or do they want their privacy? Many young men in our congregations are planning or attending events that take place late at night and far away from parental, or any other type of, supervision. They may not have a specific intent to get drunk or do other foolishness, but by fleeing from the light they've created the opportunity. A teen who tells his parents that it is none of their business where he is going is a boy who loves the dark. Another question to ask: does he have monitoring software on his computer – Covenant Eyes, for example – and would he be willing to show his smartphone to you? Would he be happy to let you know where he's been on the Internet? This would be a young man who is unafraid of, and loves, the Light. 2. Leaders

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... – Ephesians 5:25

There's a reason that young women are attracted to "bad boys." When the other young men they know are doing nothing all that bad and nothing at all remarkable, then an arrogant kid who doesn't care what anyone thinks can look like leadership material. He, at least, is not lukewarm. But this is the last man we would want for our daughters. His "leadership" recognizes no authority but his own. In contrast, God tells us that as heads to our wives we are called to serve, imitating Christ. Godly men don't dominate their wives; they die for them. So how can dads spot this sort of servant leadership in young men? It shows itself in big ways and little. In a church service, does he hold the songbook for his sister? Or does he have his hands in his pockets while his sister holds the book for him? Does he sing? Or is he too cool (too lukewarm) to praise God with enthusiasm? How does he treat his mom? If he treats her with respect – if he readily submits to authority – that is a good sign that he can be entrusted with authority. If he treats his mother shamefully, yelling at her, and ignoring what she asks, every young lady should beware! If he's a terror to someone placed over him, we don't need to guess how he will treat those under his authority. Another question to consider: did he take the servant-leader role in the relationship right from the beginning? In any boy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. So was this boy willing to stick his neck out for your daughter? Was he willing to risk looking the fool so she wouldn't have to? Or did he wait for her to take the lead and ask him out? How does he take correction? Any boy who dates our daughter is going to be, at best, a godly man partly formed. While we are all works in progress, not all of us recognize this – arrogant young men think themselves beyond the need of correction. If a potential suitor bristles at any suggestion from his elders, or if he's unwilling to apologize when he's wrong, then he is definitely the wrong sort for our daughters. We, instead, want the young man who, as we read in Proverbs 15:32, "heeds correction [and] gains understanding." Conclusion Young men hoping to get married are aspiring to a leadership role. But while marriage makes a man a leader, it won't magically make him a good one. Fortunately, leadership is a skill that can be learned, and love of the Light something we can grow in. So fathers shouldn't be expecting perfection. But we also shouldn't settle for lukewarm. It's one thing for a young man to not yet be the leader he could be, and something else entirely for him to not be aspiring to this role or preparing for it. It's one thing for a young man to not be seeking the Light as consistently or vigorously as he should, and another for him to be fleeing from it. Fathers, we want our daughters to marry young men who love the Lord and want to honor Him in their roles as husband, father, and elder. Let's be sure, then, that we teach them to look for true leaders who love the light.

A French version of this article can be found by clicking here.

Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

How to get our boys to read

In a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, Thomas Spence argues that the way some “experts” were trying to encourage boys to read was all wrong. Their strategy involved pitching boys books like Goosebumps, Sir Fartsalot, Captain Underpants and The Day My Butt Went Psycho. If we want boys to read, so this line of thinking goes, then let’s give them the potty humor they adore. That’ll make them readers, right? It might get some reading, but what it won’t do is give them any of the benefits that come from reading good books. Thomas Spence insists that instead of “meeting [boys] where they are at” we need to aim higher, and he quotes C.S. Lewis:

“The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful.”

If we point our sons to what’s disgusting and encourage their interest, how can we expect them to learn and appreciate what is good? How can our boys become men if, instead of training them up in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), we reinforce their childishness? Instead of the gross, we need to fill our shelves with what’s great. We need to give our boys examples to aspire to, in books like Encyclopedia Brown, Saint George and the Dragon, The Green Ember, The Hobbit, Journey Through the Night, and Wambu: The Chieftain's Son. Of course, it’s one thing to stock our shelves, and another to get our boys to pull books off of them. How do we get them reading? Two tips: start early, and get rid of the distractions. Read to your son from the day he's born. Sure, a newborn won’t understand what’s being read, but he will love the time sitting on mom or dad’s lap. As he gets older, he’ll enjoy board books’ for their soft chewy corners and bright colors. Then simple stories can help him learn colors and numbers and all sorts of other words. A child who never remembers a time when he hasn’t been read to won’t have to be taught to appreciate stories – by the time he hits Grade One it’ll be in his DNA. But like any habit, this one can be broken. In his article Thomas Spence cites the findings of a Dr. Robert Weis, who linked video games in the home with lower academic performance. I’m sure a similar connection could be made between TV viewing and reading ability. The fact is, no matter how good the book, it can't compete with video games and TV shows for a boy’s attention – given a choice he’s going to watch a screen rather than read. If we want to raise readers then we need to limit their access to electronic media – we need to guard them against these distractions, indulging in them only in moderation. This is going to be tough. One of the reasons we parents like TV shows and video games is they can act as effective babysitters. A boy glued to the TV, or busy trying to make it to Level 3, isn’t going to be pulling his little sister’s hair. And if he’s busy then Mom’s probably got at least 20 minutes to hop into the shower, or get breakfast ready, or put away the laundry. A lot can get done when this babysitter is helping out. Now consider that not only does the TV have to be turned off, but mom or dad needs to read to the kidlets for 15, 20, 30 minutes a day, right from babyhood onward. For a busy set of parents this might seem like just another chore to add to all the others. But here’s a bit of encouragement: it isn’t going to be forever, and it does work. A child can read on their own at 6 or 7, and while it’s wonderful to keep reading with them after that, it’s not the same sort of necessity. At that point you can switch up from being the book reader to being the book supplier, pointing them to the very best ones (and I have suggestions on some really good ones here and here). Regular reading might mean you don’t have time to tidy the house, or your lawn isn’t mowed nearly as often as it should be. But are you going to look back and regret the length of your lawn? And will your son reap a real benefit from reading with you each day through Grade One and beyond? Reading daily, for just a half dozen years or so, and you’ll have helped him develop an appreciation of good books that can benefit your son for his lifetime.

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

****

I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends. We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons. Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her. Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one. But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women. Positive character traits So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out. I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics. And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity. Uniforms Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes,  (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts. Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons. Questions for discussion Are there sports women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author's list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? Why or why not? What is the difference between "godly femininity" and "worldly feminism"? The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. What do you think of these examples? Can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?

Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).

Assorted

Cremation: why and why not

Three things got me thinking about cremation.

One was a phone call from someone asking me if I would like an information package about funerals. This was tacky – a telephone solicitation from a funeral parlor? – but I was so surprised, I found myself saying yes. A week later the package arrived and I discovered that in comparison to how expensive funerals were, cremations could be substantially less so.

The second incident was an email, with a story about a woman who organized her own funeral and asked to be buried with a fork in her right hand. Why a fork? Well, when people saw it she knew they would ask the pastor about it, and that would give him the opportunity to tell them a little story from the woman’s youth. When she was a little child she loved to attend church suppers, and she especially loved it near the end, because just as people were clearing away the dishes, one of the older ladies would always lean over and tell her, “Save your fork!” That would get her really excited because she knew something better was coming – whether it was apple cobbler, or delicious blueberry pie, or perhaps some rich chocolate cake. Whatever it was, she knew it was going to be good. So to her the fork was always a reminder that something better was coming. “When I die,” she told the pastor, “and people ask about the fork, I want you to tell them my story and then tell them the good news – that when you belong to Jesus Christ, you too can be assured that something better is coming.”

I don’t know if this story is true but it got me thinking about how many non-Christians might attend my own funeral. Funerals force people to consider their own mortality, and Christian funerals naturally bring up the idea of immortality so this sort of event can’t help but be evangelistic. The woman in this story took things a step further as she tried to really drive home the gospel message. Her approach was a little strange, but the evangelistic tone of her funeral was intriguing.

The third event was a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. This is the United States’ most famous cemetery, a shrine of remembrance to the country’s honored dead. But for every remembered president buried there, like John F. Kennedy, there are dozens of forgotten generals and thousands of anonymous privates. A row of large statues had me thinking of the Preacher’s cry: “Vanities of vanities” (Eccl 1). These grave markers were huge, but the men underneath weren’t special enough to be mentioned in my guidebook. The whole thing reminded me of the people today who seek after fame hoping that when they die members of the media will celebrate their life and say things like, “He’ll live on forever in our hearts” and “As long as we remember him, he’s not really dead.” Then, like the pharaohs of old, a giant grave marker will be erected over top of their bodies and their name will be engraved in stone in the hopes that this will ensure their remembrance.

I left Arlington Cemetery depressed. So many people in the world seek after immortality but trade the real thing for a sham.

Immortal for a different reason

These three events left me leaning towards cremation. So far I had three reasons.

First, it would save money.

Second, getting cremated was a stark contrast to the huge grave markers that I had seen in Arlington National Cemetery. I liked that contrast.

Third, cremation would be very much like getting buried with a fork – people would want to know why I did it. And when they asked, the minister could tell them a little story: “At a funeral you will sometimes hear it said that the departed has not really died because ‘he lives on in our memories.’ But if he lives on only in our memories what happens when all the people who remember him die? He’s been cremated and his ashes scattered to the wind so there isn’t even a gravestone to mark his time here on earth. In a short thirty or forty years there will be no memory of him at all, so if his immortality depends on people remembering him, what happens to him then? Well, the Bible tells us that he will still live on, not because people remember him, but rather because Jesus Christ remembers him, and has died for him. Through Jesus’ death on the cross our friend lives, now and forever. This is the real deal, the only type of immortality that endures.”

The case against cremation 

After bouncing this idea off a few friends and theological types I soon found out that some Christians are strongly opposed to cremation. It’s true there is no explicit command against cremation in the Bible, but there are still some texts that may apply in a less direct way.

  • A brief look through Scripture will show that, at the very least, burial was the normal thing to do among God’s people. For example, the Bible specifically mentions that Abraham, Isaac, Samuel and David were buried (Gen. 24:9, 35:29, 1 Samuel 25:1, & 1 Kings 2:10 respectively). Additionally, when Moses died God selected a burial spot for him (Deut. 34:6).
  • Also, when the Bible talks about fire, and specifically fire burning bodies, it is almost always portrayed in a bad light. In Gen. 38:24 Judah threatens to burn his daughter-in-law to death as a punishment for adultery. This same punishment is prescribed in Leviticus 20:14 for any man who marries a woman, and her mother. In Numbers 16 fire from God consumes 250 rebellious Israelites. The Lord curses Moab in Amos 2:1 “because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king.” The New Testament also links fire with punishment. In Revelations 20:15, for example, those whose names were not written in the Book of Life were thrown into a lake of fire.
  • Jesus was buried. Combine this with God’s treatment of Moses and we have God burying someone, and God being buried.
  • There is a lot of symbolism associated with burial that finds its origins in the Bible. For example Col 2:12 talks about how we have been buried with Christ through baptism. There are no similar passages for cremation.

The case in favor

While these texts do at first seem to make a compelling case for burial, there is more still that can be said.

  • Burial may have been the custom throughout Israel, but there are many Israelite customs we do not follow. We do not, for example, wash our feet after entering someone’s house. Just because something is done a certain way in the Bible, does not mean that God commands us to do it that way today.
  • While the Bible does talk about burning as punishment, it often refers to it as a way of killing the guilty, rather than as a means of disposing of their bodies. So this really isn’t cremation. If you do want to make the link then it is worth taking a second look at Numbers 16. It is here that the earth swallows up Korah and his household, and all his men. “They went down alive into the grave” (vs. 33). So just as “cremation” can be a punishment, so too can “burial.”
  • 1 Sam. 31:12 recounts one of the very few examples in which cremation is specifically brought up in the Bible, and it is portrayed in a neutral, if not positive light. Saul’s body is retrieved from the Philistines and burned by the “valiant men” of Jabesh Gilead. (But, as has been pointed out since this article was first published, the next verse, 1 Sam 31:13, then recounts how their bones were buried).
  • While fire is often spoken of as a means of punishment, John the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize people with, “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). Fire is also mentioned positively as a means of refinement (Rev. 3:18). So it seems clear then, that this is symbolic language, and that fire is not, in itself, bad.

Christian stewardship can also be a consideration here since cremation usually costs substantially less than burial– the main saving is in the cheaper casket and the fact there is no plot to buy.

Cost is not the most compelling reason, of course. The best case for cremation is really the case for Christian liberty: if there is no scriptural directive on this issue, then each Christian is free to follow the dictates of his, or her own conscience.

Conclusion

Cremation seems to be a rarity in our churches so this may not be much of an issue for us today, but when you consider that cremation has gone from 4 per cent of Canadian funerals in 1961 to 46 per cent in 2001, it’s clear we will have to think about it soon. It’s best then to discuss this issue now, rather than when it is forced on us. If you have any thoughts on cremation, or have any points or arguments you would like to contribute, please comment below.

For further study, Reformed resources on, and primarily against, cremation

  • Dr. Nelson D. Kloosterman argues against cremation here.
  • Rev. Steve Schlissel takes a strong stand against cremation in this article.

This article first appeared in the June, 2003 issue. It has been corrected, with a reference to 1 Sam. 31:13 now pointing to the previous verse, 1 Sam. 31:12.


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