Should I talk to my dead relative? This is a common question that I hear as a pastor. Death is often a very difficult finality in this life. We’re faced with the reality that we will not see our loved one again on this side of eternity. The moment of last words, good-byes, and that final embrace is often extremely painful. As a pastor, I’ve stood beside many caskets as family and friends passed by the body of their loved one for the final time. I’ve watched Christians endure their final moments with great assurance. I have also watched unbelievers lunge into the casket and pull the body upwards in one last outburst of grief. Death is a painful enemy to endure.
After the funeral ends and you return to your loved one’s grave site, should you talk to your dead relative? Will your father or mother hear you when you speak to them? Is it possible to consult with the dead who are already in eternity? While it may be tempting to try to reconcile with a relative or pay respect to a close friend by communicating with him, it’s actually unbiblical and a practice that you should refrain from engaging in. Consider the following reasons why you should not talk to the dead.
People are not Omnipresent
God is able to hear the prayers of the entire world’s population at once. How is this possible? God is not limited by geographic location. In fact, God is not limited by anything. God is in the presence of people in Zambia and Iowa at the same exact time. That same attribute of God is not transferable to people. When people die, they still retain certain limitations. In other words, a person cannot be on earth and in heaven at the same time. When a person dies and goes to heaven, they are unable to hear conversations that you may desire for them to hear as you stand over their grave or lie in your bed in the late hours of the night.
Demons are Deceitful
As a boy, I recall going to a friend’s home where he had a ouija board. I had never had any exposure to something like this, so naturally I was skeptical and intrigued at the same time. My friend made several attempts to get a response from a dead relative. When I told my father about this, he schooled me on how this was not unbiblical. I still recall him saying that it’s possible to get a response, but it wouldn’t be from his relative – it would be from a demon.
As we know, the devil is called the father of lies (John 8:44). As the deceiver of this world, we can rest assured that when people seek to channel spirits and communicate with the dead, a response will often come, but it will not be from their friend or relative. Demonic spirits are alive and have a strong presence in this world. It would be wise to refrain from such practices.
God’s Word Forbids the Practice of Talking to the Dead
All throughout the Bible, we see clear warnings issued to God’s people about consulting mediums and talking to the dead. Consider Leviticus 20:5-7, the Law of God opposed such practices and clearly warned the people to pursue holiness. God’s people were to be set apart from the rest of the world. Once again, in Deuteronomy 18:10-14, the people of God were commanded to abstain from sorcery and all such practices.
In the New Testament, we are encouraged to test the spirits because not every spirit is from God (1 John 4:1). We must be alert and on guard when it comes to the spirit realm. God desires for His people to pray and communicate with Him, but to pray to a dead relative, friend, or as some suggest – a saint – is forbidden in Scripture. No person has greater access to God than Jesus Christ and He alone is our mediator between us and God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5).
Although death may seem overwhelming and can create great loneliness, we are encouraged to seek comfort and peace in God alone. We should direct our prayers and concerns to Him. If you are tempted to talk to your dead relative or friend, just remember, if your loved one was a Christian, you will see this person again if you too are a child of God. Death will not separate God’s children. Death has been defeated. Find your hope and your ultimate healing by communicating with God rather than your loved one who has passed away.
Isaiah 8:19-20 – And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.
As a pastor, I often receive questions about cremation. Interestingly, these questions have become more common in recent years than they were when I first became a pastor. Early in my ministry, I rarely had questions about cremation, but in recent years, I’ve noticed a perpetual uptick in the questions and practice.
For years the practice of cremation has been debated. To bury or to burn? So, is cremation sinful? I don’t think it’s sinful. However, before you sell your burial plots and pick out a nice urn for your ashes, I would take time to think about the idea of cremation from a distinctly Christian worldview.
The Christian Practice of Burial
We read in Genesis 15, God spoke to Abram in a dream and informed him about the Egyptian captivity, the land of promise, and then spoke of Abram’s burial (Gen. 15:15). As we continue to read through the Old Testament, we see Abram’s name was changed to Abraham and according to Scripture, he “buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan” (Gen. 23:19). When it came time for Abraham to die, Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah (Gen. 25:9). Likewise, Jacob buried Rachel on the way to Bethlehem (Gen. 35:19–20) and Joseph made his sons promise to bury his bones in the land of Israel (Gen. 50:25; Exod. 13:19; Josh. 24:32).
The fact is, from the earliest roots of Christianity, the children of God have always buried their loved ones. They viewed the body to be sacred and they likewise believed in the resurrection. It’s not that the body doesn’t decay and that God isn’t able to resurrect ashes sprinkled in the dirt or the sea, but that the body was created by God and is sacred. According to Francis Schaeffer, if you wanted to trace the spread of Christianity across the Greco-Roman world, you could do it by focusing on the burial practices of the people. According to Schaeffer, “the Romans burned their dead, the Christians buried theirs.” 
The Rabbis of Judaism viewed the practice of burning a corpse as an idolatrous practice and often would not officiate a funeral of someone who chose cremation rather than burial. As we survey the New Testament, we see that Lazarus was buried. Jesus appeared at his tomb and that’s where the resurrection took place. When Jesus spoke to Lazarus’ sister, she spoke of her hope in the future resurrection (John 11:23-25). She had no idea that Jesus would resurrect her brother on that particular day. We also must note that when Jesus died, He was buried – not cremated. There was this forward looking aspect of resurrection for the Christian who buried their loved ones in Christ.
The History of Burning the Body
Pagans often burned corpses for various reasons. For some, it was a common practice of burial. The Greeks and Romans practiced cremation as a normal and preferred practice for their dead. They likewise opposed Christianity and viewed it as a weak religion. To them, the gospel was utter foolishness. For others, it was a practice of pagan worship. The cult of Moloch was practiced by child sacrifice which involved passing the child through the fire (Lev. 18:21, 20:2–4; Deut. 18:10).
Beyond the time period of the Old Testament, we find in more modern times, the tragic rule of Hitler and his practice of cremation. Survivors of Auschwitz often spoke of their memory of the chimney constantly smoking as corpses were incinerated. Historic records reveal that some of Hilter’s crematorium facilities were capable of burning over 1,400 bodies in a 24 hour period. Hitler hated the Jews, but more importantly, he hated God. One of the ways that he dishonored God was by starving and burning the bodies of people created by God.
Is It Really About Money?
When you consider the care and preparation that went into the burial practices of the people of God throughout history, it seems normal to kiss the cheek of your loved one and say goodbye through a burial process that honors the dignity of the body. The imago Dei of the human being is not limited to the human body, but David Jones makes a good point as he writes, “The dignity of the human body is also demonstrable by the incarnation of Christ. While ‘God is spirit’ (John 4:24) and thus has no body, in his incarnation, Jesus took on human flesh.” 
How much money do you save in the cremation process? Is it worth it? What message are you sending to others by your actions? Sure, you may not be thinking of the theological aspects in the moment and it really may be a financial issue for you. I don’t think it’s sinful. I don’t think you should be gripped with fear and regret if you’ve chosen cremation. However, I do think it’s worth considering beyond the potential financial savings. Perhaps if you downgrade your casket and cut other corners you could stick with the long line of Christian burial practices rather than cremation. Cremation doesn’t limit God in the resurrection, but consider the message we send to others when we bury our loved ones. We are looking forward to the resurrection. Just as Christ was buried and resurrected bodily from the tomb, so shall all of the children of God be raised in a glorified body to live with God forever.
- Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976) 24
- David W. Jones, “To Bury or To Burn? Toward an Ethic of Cremation,” JETS 53/2 (June 2010) 335–47
Just across the street from our church campus is an old community cemetery that our church adopted years ago in order to better manage it and increase the appearance which has a direct reflection upon our church. On a regular basis, I walk through the cemetery on my way to the convenience store in order to buy a drink and perhaps a snack (Butterfinger).
This cemetery is where my grandfather, great-grandfather, and other family members are buried. Since my time as pastor of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church where I grew up as a boy, I have preached 20+ funerals. I have visited this cemetery many times through the years. As a boy, I would pass through with my bicycle to buy a pack of baseball cards on a hot summer’s day. In recent years, I have stood before a heartbroken family in my long black coat with an open Bible as they said goodbye to their loved one. Through the years, I have learned some important lessons in this old cemetery.
Death Is No Respecter Of Persons
As I walk through the cemetery, there is one plot where three small tombstones sit in a line that catch my attention almost every time I enter the gates of the cemetery. These tombstones commemorate three infant babies that were taken by death from one family years ago. Sometimes we forget that life is temporary and that death is no respecter of persons. As I walk through that cemetery to grab a candy bar, I often reflect upon my life. Am I prepared for my funeral? I could be buried in the old cemetery by the end of the week.
I often speak of the frailty of life in my sermons on the Lord’s day because I have learned what it’s like to preach to a person on Sunday and have their funeral on the following Friday. As a pastor, it is my duty to equip people to live and prepare people to die. What about you? Are you prepared to die?
It may be difficult to fully understand, but God is the One responsible for life and death. No person lives without God and likewise, no person dies apart from God. The elderly who go to their grave at 90+ years of age are governed by the same God who watches over the infant who dies a few days after birth. Every tomb in the old cemetery adjacent to our church campus represents a life that God gave and that God took away. As Job said, in all cases, we must learn to say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
People Need Hope In The Resurrection
Each time I stand before family members who are seated before a casket in those dreadful funeral home chairs, it’s a fresh reminder that we all need hope. I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a child of God at the grave of a loved one and see their pain through their tear filled eyes. The hope they need to rest upon is the promise of Jesus’ return and the resurrection that will happen as Jesus reunites the souls of His children with their new bodies.
Likewise, I know what it’s like to look into the eyes of a lost person at the grave of their loved one. Their need is evident. Their pain is real. They have no hope and they need to find hope in the resurrection. In such moments, I have spoken of the spiritual resurrection that must happen at the new birth in order to find hope in the physical resurrection that will happen on God’s divine calendar.
In both cases – the resurrection of Jesus, the spiritual resurrection of the new birth, and the final physical resurrection of the new body brings hope to the broken hearted in a cold cemetery in January. Death has been defeated. Jesus will one day wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more.
We Often Forget People
On my typical walk through the cemetery, I will stop and read a few of the tombstones. As I look at the names, occasionally I will recognize the family and start to make connections to the person. At that moment, I start to recall stories and connections the individual has to our church. Then I notice how the plot is unkept and obviously lacks attention. More troubling is the reminder that we often fail to remember the person, not just their cemetery plot. I often try to consider how many stories are buried in that old cemetery. Stories that would bring laughter and tears, good memories and tragic reminders.
As we press on through this temporal life, it would do us well to remember those who have gone before us. Their memory is important. Their legacy matters. For some, we can learn how to live. Others can teach us how to die. Still more can teach us lessons that will prevent tragic mistakes. Nevertheless, we should be diligent in trying to exhume the memories of friends and loved ones from the dirt of the cemetery.
As we continue learning how to live, we must prepare to die. May our legacy be so bright and full of Christ that nobody could bury it in the ground. Perhaps a man will be walking through the cemetery to buy a candy bar one day and stumble across your name on a tombstone. Hopefully your legacy will point to Jesus Christ!
John Owen reminds us, “We cannot enjoy peace in this world unless we are ready to yield to the will of God in respect of death. Our times are in His hand, at His sovereign disposal. We must accept that as best.”
This past Saturday, Jason Ellis, a close friend of our family was murdered. He was a K-9 police officer in Bardstown, Kentucky. He was ambushed on the way home from work early Saturday morning. Today is the first day that Amy will see her husband before the visitation begins. Tomorrow will be his funeral. Please pray for Amy and their two young boys (6 & 7), one of which is special needs. She will need the prayers of many Christians as her faith is rooted in the Lord. Amy is my wife’s best friend and what you read below is the letter that I sent to her today.
Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24). The fact is Amy, Saturday was a gloomy day and one that you have dreaded since Jason became a police officer. However, it was a day that the Lord made as well. Sunday was the first day after your husband died and it was extremely difficult for you. The Lord made that day as well along with the new mercies that He delivers every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Monday was another day made by the Lord and it was also Memorial Day. We remembered Jason’s faithful service and want you to know how thankful we all are for his dedication to provide us with freedom.
Tuesday was another day made by the Lord and one that you provided great glory to Him through the press conference. Jason would have been very proud to see your strength and your reliance on God. Today is Wednesday, another day made by the Lord. Today is the day that you will see Jason again for the first time since he left the ball field last Friday night to go to work. Today will have challenges and blessings, sadness and peace. Through it all, remember that you will have your mother who loves you, your brothers who will stand with you, and many close friends to support you. Remember through all of the pain that you have another One who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24) and He has promised to never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) and His name is Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow is Thursday and it is another day that the Lord will make. It is also the day for the funeral service of Jason – your faithful husband, dedicated father, committed family man, and highly respected police officer. It will be a day of many emotions that will flow like raging rivers. You will experience sadness, grief, pain, disappointment, and even anger. Behind the veil of sorrow will be a peace that passes all understanding as God accompanies you down the aisle. “Be strong in the Lord and be of good courage, your mighty Commander will vanquish the foes.” You will have hundreds of people there to show respect for Jason and support for you and your boys. Remember that in that large crowd of people, the Lord of glory, the maker of heaven and earth will be present. Trust in Him Amy!
The day following the funeral will be Friday. It will be another day made by the Lord. It will come with added challenges and new mercies created by the Lord specifically for that day. Find your refuge and hope in Christ Jesus our Lord. Saturday will be another day made by the Lord and will likewise have new mercies delivered to you from God. As the Psalmist said:
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies (Psalm 18:1-3).
As the Lord causes the sun to peak over the trees on Sunday morning, remember it is the day that the Lord has made. Sunday is a special day – often referred to as the Lord’s day. The reason is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus was brutally murdered. His body was disfigured. He was hung on a cruel Roman cross in a shameful way – completely naked – a place where the most severe criminals died. As He hung there He had the sins of all of the people who would ever call upon the name of the Lord for salvation laid upon Him. He suffered, bled, and died on the cross.
On the third day after His burial, Jesus was resurrected from the dead. As He stood in victory, murder was placed under His feet. Death was placed under His feet. Sin was placed under His feet. The devil himself was placed under His feet. He stood as the Victor over death and the grave. He has given us this hope that we too – all of us who have faith in Him – will one day have a resurrection to reign with Him as the joint heirs of glory. I love the way the Bible describes that in Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Amy, may God cause the root of your soul to run deep into the well of God’s sovereignty during these days. May it be the truth of God’s unshakeable sovereign grace that provides you strength when you are weak, comfort when you are hurting, a smile when you are overcome with sadness, peace when you are unable to rest, and joy in the morning (Psalm 30:5)! Remember, God’s justice never sleeps nor slumbers and the person or people who did this horrific thing to Jason will be brought to justice. It will happen in God’s court and His vengeance is far greater than any earthly judge (Romans 12:19).
Just days after his children had died at sea through a shipwreck – Horatio G. Spafford penned these words:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
You know that our family loves you and we are praying for you. If we can do anything – anytime – please call us.
What does James 4:14 have to do with our American “Tax Day” of April 15th? On April 15th 2003, God taught me a massive lesson about the “mist” of life. Life is here today, and we are not promised that it will be here tomorrow. Scripture has plainly spoken of this reality, but unfortunately many times we are caught off guard when death visits our friends or family.
It was 10 years ago today that my friend William Harrell died suddenly in a car accident. I will never forget receiving the late night phone call informing me that William had died while traveling home from having dinner with his brother. It was a shock that I can still feel today as I rethink those moments. I recall having fear, doubt, questions for God, and sadness in my heart for his wife who was only 10 weeks pregnant with their first child.
The Bible says the following in James 4:14 – “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Who can boast of tomorrow? Who can boast of plans they have for next month? The reality is – no person is promised tomorrow. In fact, Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” John Owen said these words, “We cannot enjoy peace in this world unless we are ready to yield to the will of God in respect of death. Our times are in His hand, at His sovereign disposal. We must accept that as best.”1
This past week, I was in the remote mountains of Ecuador with a mission team from our church. We traveled into small remote villages to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. As my team and I went up this small path to a house, we were greeted by two women (a mother and her adult daughter). As we started to share the gospel, the mother was resistant, but the younger woman was interested in hearing the message from the Bible. After a very lengthy presentation and conversation on the gospel of Jesus Christ, it was clear that these two women were not willing to repent and trust Jesus Christ for their salvation. As we were preparing to leave, I handed a Bible to the women and pointed to the book of John as a good starting place. Before we walked off, I asked, “What was your view like this morning?” The older woman responded, “It was clear, but the clouds came in suddenly and surrounded us.” This particular village is located at approximately 10,000 feet of elevation and the clouds will often encompass the entire mountain causing it to be like a thick white fog of mist. After hearing her answer, I said, “That is exactly what the Bible teaches us about life. Our lives are here today, but they may not be here tomorrow. Therefore, it is extremely important for you to turn to Jesus Christ today for salvation.”
As I spoke to that woman, I was speaking from personal experience. I had a friend named William who loved Christ and was a man who challenged me in the Word of God. On April 15th 2003, his life proved to be like a mist – it was in front of me – and then it passed away. That same thing shall one day prove true about my life. In comparison to world history, my life span will prove only to be a short mist. It suddenly arrived and departed from the scene of humanity. Although my life has lasted longer than my friend William, it is nevertheless a short mist that will soon be driven away by death. It would do us all well to consider how quickly life is passing by and how soon we will be in eternity. It would be foolish to be constantly setting our plans in order and marking our calendars with life events without first considering the reality that we may be in eternity tomorrow. Are we prepared?
Luke 12:16-21 provides a graphic illustration regarding the fool’s lifestyle:
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Did you know that in the Bible the word “fool” appears 76 times in 72 verses – most of which are found in the book of Proverbs (wisdom literature)? It would be an extremely foolish thing to live as if you are going to be here tomorrow. We must be prepared to die. A quick walk through any cemetery will prove that young people die and are buried right alongside the elderly. How many people do we know who are speeding through life unprepared to stand before God? How many Christian men are speeding through life without preparing their children and wives spiritually? How many Christian mothers are racing through life on their i-devices while neglecting their children? How many pastors are going to die tomorrow without preparing their churches yesterday through the gospel? We must understand that life is short – like a mist – it is here today and gone tomorrow. Are we prepared to stand before the Lord of glory?
1. John Owen, Meditation on the Glory of Christ, Preface.
Often death catches us by surprise, and then takes our breath away in the process. Death can leave us feeling cold, exposed, fearful, angry, confused, and bitter. Sometimes, death brings all of these emotions at once! I still recall receiving the horrible phone call around midnight on April 15th 2003. My pastor was on the other line when my wife answered. She gave me the phone and I still recall hearing him say, “Josh, I have some bad news. William was killed in an automobile accident tonight.” I remember just becoming completely numb. It was the last thing I expected to hear. After all, we had prayed earlier that day that his meeting with his brother would be profitable! He was going to share the gospel with him after work. I was planning to talk with him about the meeting after arriving at work the next morning. That never happened – William was suddenly taken away.
I spent months questioning God on the reasoning behind such a horrific accident. He was a young preacher. He had a young wife who was 10 weeks pregnant with their first child. Why would God allow such tragedy? While I have never heard a voice from the clouds – I have become absolutely convinced that God’s ways are often mysterious but we can trust His sovereign will to the end. God’s purposes always bring Him glory. Even through the death of hymn writer’s daughters at sea. God gains the glory through the selling of a younger brother off into slavery. God has gained the glory through the suffering of Paul and the martyrs of church history. Jerry Bridges writes, “In His infinite wisdom, God allows trials in order to develop perseverance in us and to cause us to fix our hopes on the glory that is yet to be revealed… Our faith and perseverance can grow only under the pain of trial.”
In the book of Job, we see that he experienced great trial and suffering. The first chapter is a testimony of the trials he faced – under the sovereign plan of God. Job experienced:
- The Sebeans’ Attack
- The Fire from the Sky
- The Chaldeans’ Attack
- The Wind from the Wilderness
Job suddenly lost employees, possessions, and his children in one sweeping bitter providence. Yet, under the heavy hand of suffering – Job does something completely out of the ordinary! Rather than going down the dead end road of bitterness and being overcome by the cloud of confusion – Job worships God. The Bible tells us that Job worshipped and trusted God in the midst of his tragedy.
Job 1:20-22 – Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
I have personally watched William’s wife Kerri follow the pattern of Job. Rather than going down a dead end road of bitterness – she has trusted her God through every difficult moment following her tragic loss of her husband. God has since blessed her with another man to be her husband and the father of her daughter with William. Not only has God blessed her with her husband Chip Thornton, but He has also blessed them with 3 additional children.
William Cowper wrote the following in a hymn – God Moves In A Mysterious Way
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Our God is good, and He will always gain glory in our suffering. In the midst of this bitter providence of William’s death – God has truly hidden a smiling face. Although our trials and suffering moments in this life are often difficult to handle – we must turn to our God for comfort and find genuine peace in His absolute sovereignty.
Charles Spurgeon writes, “So surely as the stars are fashioned by His hands, and their orbits fixed by Him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: He has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us.“2
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. The Practice of Godliness, NavPress, 1996, p. 112
2. Morning and Evening, Morning: March 8