Friday, January 4, 2008

Compost Thou Art, and to Compost Thou Shalt Return?

I don't expect them to know any better of course, but this statement profoundly saddens me:

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) -- Cynthia Beal wants to be an Oregon cherry tree after she dies. She has everything to make it happen -- a body, a burial site and a biodegradable coffin.

"It is composting at its best," said Beal, owner of The Natural Burial Company, which will sell a variety of eco-friendly burial products when it opens in January, including the Ecopod, a kayak-shaped coffin made out of recycled newspapers.

The human body as nothing but organic matter, part of a never-ending natural cycle? We're nothing more than walking sacks of fertilizer? Far be it for us to so profane the wonder of God's creation, to so crassly misunderstand the clear teaching of His Word. For we are dust and to it we shall return. But for the one who trusts in Christ, his ultimate destiny is far from dust, it is glory.

The Bible does use stark language to refer to the earthly end of man. Indeed, when God pronounces judgment for Adam and Eve's sin, He proclaims to the former, "you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gen. 3:19)

Yet of course that's not the whole story. Man's body is dust, it is corrupted by the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden as a result of original sin. But that's only the half of it. Genesis records that God Himself " formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." (Gen. 2:7)

We learn previously in Genesis that God has created all other living creatures but Scripture does not record God breathing into them "the breath of life" in the same manner as he did with Adam. Indeed, the breath of life may be seen as being necessary to imbue unto man (and of course woman) the characteristic of being made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-29).

What do we have then? The curse of returning as dust unto dust is pronounced after sin entered the world, but man retains his soul, which was created in the image of God but has been marred horrendously by the guilt and corresponding penalties of sin. Sure, man pays a dear price for his sin, but he retains his soul, he retains his moral responsibility before God, he is far from a walking sack of compost, but he is, physically, dust. He is bound to the base and elemental lusts of his flesh and will end a life of toil and trouble to return to the dust.

That is utterly wretched and sad, but it's only the half of the story.

Scripture tells us that the blessed hope of the Christian is, to borrow from R.C. Sproul, to go from dust to glory.

The Apostle Paul writes of this at length in his first letter to the church at Corinth (15:44b-49):

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; [5] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall [6] also bear the image of the man of heaven.

That is the hope of him who puts his trust in Christ. Death, the final enemy, is vanquished in Christ, both for the believer, and for the entirety of the universe, which will be renewed at the close of the age when Christ returns (Romans 8:19-24a),

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.
Christians don't merely hope for eternity in Heaven, we long for a new heaven and new earth, a universe renewed and resurrected by the power of our victorious Savior, Christ Jesus. We groan inwardly knowing we are dust and to dust we return, but we long to be "further clothed" with God's glory, with our a supernatural resurrection body that will never perish nor corrupt, that will never physically fail us.

For now "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" but one day we shall be free in body and spirit from all encumbrances to giving God the glory due Him, for we shall be clothed over with glory, as Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians (5:1-5):

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on [1] we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
Hallelujah. God is preparing His people for a new heaven and a new earth and has given us His Holy Spirit as the guarantee thereof.

So what's the bottom line? If you're a Christian and you want to have minimal impact on the environment when you go on to be with the Lord, great, do so, and do so to the glory of God! But, please, with all that is within you, do take the opportunity to remind people that you don't think of your body as mere compost, as mere tree food.

You act of burial is akin to planting a seed, a seed that God will bring to full and glorious flower in the Resurrection.

That's the hope that you've been called to. Don't let your desire to be environmentally friendly squelch out THAT witness.



Mad Hatter January 4, 2008 at 2:01 PM  

I want to be a fish. Maybe they'll come up with a water-bound coffin?

Laura January 7, 2008 at 8:01 AM  

Prompts some good tangential thoughts too, about our bodies as temples... My instinctive reaction was to be critical of the prioritization of the environment, and then I had to think too, and take a lesson from the comments here, how many things are there that we, that I, allow to be idols that control the way I think about my body, rather than honoring it as God intends? Maybe it's not an environmental issue, but there are so many other things...drugs, overeating, undereating, alcohol, clothing choices, the list is endless, and the fact that our bodies are not compost should inform the impact of these issues too.

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