Is It Proper To Prepare One’s Tomb While Still Alive?
Despite its inevitability, people still avoid the issue of death as diligently as possible. As such, many are caught totally unprepared, when death comes calling. In many cases, this state of unpreparedness has led to squabbles and caused a lot of anguish to the living left behind, as their beloved had died intestate. But it has been generally acknowledged that no mortal, whether young or old, illiterate or educated can escape the cold hands of death, when the time finally comes. Interestingly, however, a few individuals seem to have come to terms with the reality and go ahead to construct their own tombs even before death comes calling. Does building one’s tomb, while still alive run contrary to Christian or Muslim belief? Is there anything wrong in this action? Can it hasten one’s passing, as is believed in some quarters? Would religious leaders encourage their members to prepare their tombs well ahead of time? Are there examples in the Bible? Some clerics share their views and the phobia that trails death with CHRIS IREKAMBA.
‘Preparing One’s Tomb Does Not Mean Early Death’
(Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Peter Ogunmuyiwa, Bishop in-charge of the African Church, Abuja)
THOSE who are doing it are conscious of the fact that they will leave this world for the beyond one day. I don’t think it is out of place, if it is done out of conviction and joy that one is going to depart from this sinful world eventually. So, looking at it from that angle, I think it is okay. But from the Biblical angle, that tomb you are preparing is not where you will actually spend eternity. So, I think the motive behind it is what matters. If the intention is that as a Christian, you feel like ‘I want to sleep here after my departure,” then I don’t think it is out of place. But if the motive is wrong, for example, some families have a special place for burying their dead, and every now and then, they go there to pay homage to the dead, then it is wrong. I won’t support that. So, it depends on the actual motive behind preparing a tomb, while one is still alive. The implication can be positive or negative from what I have said so far. For instance, if it is a pointer for preparing yourself for heaven, then the implication is that you will strive to live a pious, righteous and godly life that is worthy of God’s child. But if the person is not a Christian, the intention could be to remember him/her every now and then and whenever they hold any festival, they go there to make sacrifices yearly.
I may also make such provision with the mind that since one is going to die anyway, heaven should be your focus at any given time. What people should do is to live, as if they will die tomorrow. It is only the wealthy that can prepare their graves before hand, but the poor does not have any thing and so, what is important is to live your life, as if you will die any time and accept Jesus Christ into your life. This is what should be paramount in peoples’ lives and not preparing tombs.
After all, if you don’t have money to prepare a tomb, there is always the general or public cemetery. I don’t believe it is a kind of phobia. In the scripture, it is written ‘there is a time and season for everything.’ Also in the book of Job, it says, ‘you cannot exceed the time that is apportioned to you by God.’ So, whether you prepare it now or later will not determine when you will die, which actually depends on God. He is the One that takes life; so I believe life and death are in His hands. Don’t forget that the book of Revelations chapter 20, also mentioned that, ‘there they saw even the young and the old’ and so age does not matter in death.
I have seen someone, who prepared his tomb, but did not die until he was over 100 years so much so that he had to renovate it again. However, some people might build theirs and then die young. Even Satan does not have the power to take life. What is important is for people to do what is right and acceptable before God so that when death comes, we will be able to make heaven.
Before my daddy died, he told us where he would like to be buried and he said this when we were very young. But he didn’t die soon after telling us. He died at the age of 73 and he told us when he was about 40 years or thereabout. I don’t think that is what actually leads to one’s death. What matters is how you lived here on earth and not the time you die.
I will not encourage my members to prepare their tombs. But I will prepare their minds to the fact that they are going to die one day. I won’t even tell them that they are going to live long. My message will be centred on the fact that Jesus may come today or you may die today or tomorrow; so always prepare your minds towards that. And when you are conscious of that, then you’ll live righteously with your neighbour as well as please God.
There’s no particular passage in the scripture that encourages one to prepare a tomb, while he/she is alive. But the scripture continues to emphasise the fact that we should prepare our ways before the coming of the Lord. So, it depends on how you want to prepare, which can be in different forms. We have seen in the past when some had to sell their properties and gave out what they had in expectation of the second coming of Christ, but they waited and Jesus did not come. Some grew old and later died naturally. So, it’s not theologically right to say that it hastens one’s passing or that we should prepare our tombs while we are alive. What the scripture talks about is our character. The ultimate is to have Jesus in our lives.
If you said that Abraham and Joseph of Arimathea did that, it was not an injunction for the church to practise. When there is a practice, especially in the Old Testament, it does not make it a law. That they did that is not a law or abiding on every Christian. It’s only a tradition. What the Bible encourages is a decent and godly life. Holding to Biblical tradition will not help in one’s pursuit of heaven. You have to be able to understand tradition from what the Bible is talking about. Salvation and tradition are two different things. Salvation is given to us freely, it is by grace and you don’t work for it.
‘It Is Recommended For Those That Have The Means’
(Lukman Folorunsho, immediate past, National General Secretary of Nasrul-Lahi-IL-Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT)
In Islamic countries, there are befitting burial grounds prepared by the government for the dead. But such arrangement is not well entrenched in our system here in Nigeria. Therefore, there is nothing wrong for people to prepare their final resting place while alive.
All that is needed is for individuals, who have the means to specify where they want as their final resting place. In fact, in some instances, periodic special prayers are offered at the site for God to have mercy on the dead, when the time comes.
On whether it can hasten one’s death, I don’t think so. Rather, it reminds someone that death is real and this will equally spur the person to be doing good and godly things in preparation for death.
Yes, people should be encouraged to prepare for death and one of the reminders is to have a burial site prepared before death comes. It is recommended for those that have the means.
There is no example in the holy Qur’an, but some Islamic scholars have done the same in the past.
I Will Recommend Making A Will For Every Christian, Rather Than…’
(Pastor Mike Onyeka, Senior Pastor Victorious People Assembly Int’l Aba, Abia State)
THE Bible does not recommend or condemn the practice for Christians. I do not see anything wrong with the practice on the face of it. But in our culture, it is not common. However, I will recommend writing a Will for every Christian. In it, the instructions for funeral arrangements, including that concerning the tomb can be given, which the Will’s executors or family members should implement at the appropriate time. This is different from preparing one’s tomb with ones own hands in advance of death.
The other issue is that in our culture, when a young person of less than 50 years who is not terminally sick begins to prepare for his/her death including building his/her own grave, it gives the impression of something sinister or occultic. That kind of evil insinuation is not good for a Christian. Preparing one’s grave cannot hasten ones death.
I would not encourage anybody to prepare his/her grave in advance. For the Jews in the Bible, it was a matter of culture to have personal tombs and even family tombs. It was not a command from God. The Christian who comes from a different culture has no obligation to copy the same.
‘Many Christians Have Purchased Their Vaults In The Church Or Public Cemetery For Their Burial’
(Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Michael Olusina Fape, Anglican Bishop of Remo, Ogun State)
DEATH is one event that nobody wants to talk about. In fact, the Bible says many have been held in a lifelong bondage of the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14-15). While many fear death, yet it is a debt that must be paid one day, for “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
There are many people, who know that death is a necessary end, and have taken steps to prepare for it by preparing their grave, even before time. Specifically, many Christians have been found to purchase their vaults (graves) in the church or public cemetery for their burial after death. This is a common practice in places, where people envisage that the remaining portion of the church cemetery may soon get exhausted, and they would like to be buried in the place of their choice. So, for them to be buried where they desire, the vaults are paid for and prepared in advance.
It is to be noted that preparing one’s grave is not an automatic invitation to death. And the fact that an individual has prepared his/her grave does not mean he/she will die soonest. There are many people that have prepared their graves (vaults) in advance, yet they never die untimely. Therefore, there is nothing bad in preparing one’s grave before death.
Preparation of the tomb before death is Biblical for whoever wishes to do so. The case of Joseph of Arimathea comes to the fore in this regard (Mark 15:42-46). He was the owner of the Tomb, where Jesus Christ was buried after His Crucifixion. Therefore, there is nothing bad in preparing one’s grave while still alive. In actual fact, it will be a constant reminder of the fact that we are mere pilgrims here on earth; and everything does not end here.
‘If I Have The Finances And Understanding Of My Family, I Will Prepare My Grave’
(Rev. Francis Ejiroghene Waive, General Overseer, Fresh Anointing Missionary Ministries Inc./ Senior Pastor, Church of the Anointing,
Warri, Delta State)
THERE is nothing wrong with an individual preparing for his/her death and this includes preparing his/her burial place. To some extent, it shows that the individual has imbibed the Biblical teaching on the brevity of life and the vanity of primitive accumulation. Christians are encouraged to live with eternity in view. We are also to ensure as much as we can, that there is less acrimony and stress upon our passing from earth. Even where the individual feels preparing his/her grave or tomb is repulsive to him/her and or relatives fear the possibility of immediate death, it is advisable to make the arrangements and let this information be available upon passing into eternity. This should ordinarily be handled like a Will.
To say that it can hasten one’s passage is superstitious. Except of course, the individual begins to desire death and lives recklessly. If the fellow starts making his death the subject of daily discussion and quits enjoying life, he is inviting death. And he sure will die soon. This is a different situation and you don’t need a prepared grave to do this. Mere preparation of a tomb has no way of hastening one’s death.
And there are Biblical examples of people preparing their graves ahead although there is no instruction to do so. It appears more of a practice by rich Israelites. The most popular of these is Joseph of Arimathea, who donated his grave for the burial of our Lord Jesus.
If I had the finances and the understanding of my family, I would prepare my grave myself. However, as I write, my desire is to be buried in an unmarked grave with no concrete or cement. I believe that there should be something more than a gravestone that I leave behind, when my time to depart this world comes.
‘A Person Constructing His Own Grave Is A Sign Of Loneliness And Loss Of Sense’
(Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua, Director of Mission/Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja/Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City)
I DON’T think it makes sense for a person to make his/her own grave. The reason is that God created human beings to live in a community. Our people in Etsako have a saying that the dead do not bury or mourn himself/herself. Every human being should live in such a way that he/she may be buried in the heart of other human beings instead of being forgotten in a beautiful grave.
In other words, the best way to bury oneself is to create an enduring memory in the minds and hearts of human beings. Therefore, the vision and life should be “what will I be remembered for when I am gone.”
A person constructing his/her own grave is a sign of loneliness and loss of sense of the value of family and community. If you make your own grave and your own coffin, you should also have the capacity to put yourself in the coffin and carry yourself to the grave. The person should then go ahead to perform all the burial rites.
The issues concerning death and burial are properly covered in my book: “Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua, Human life, Here and Hereafter, Eschatology and Anthropology in the Judeo-Christian and Etsako Religions.”