Graveyards and burial grounds are quite extraordinary spots. To several individuals, they spark an uncanny and somber feeling. In contrast, some people find these places shrouded in sorrow while grieving for the demise of dear ones. On the other hand, some consider them as sanctuaries to commemorate and rejoice in the lives of their near and dear ones. Truthfully speaking, it gives an occasional chill down the spine, akin to a vampire tale.
But for Christians and Bible readers, cemeteries bring about a host of questions for us:
Should Christians visit graves? Should they decorate the graves of loved ones? Should they attempt to speak to ancestors? If we know their soul is in Heaven with Christ, is it worth it to try to “speak” to them? Are we just trying to make ourselves feel better?
So what does the Bible say about visiting graves? The Bible tells us it’s not a good idea to try to communicate with the dead at their graves (Deuteronomy 18:10-12), but the Bible makes plenty of room to weep, to mourn, and to remember those we’ve lost.
Why Do People Visit Graves and Cemeteries?
Let’s start with some reasons for visiting graves and cemeteries. You might come to a grave or cemetery to:
- Mourn over a loss
- Express anger to God over a loss
- Attempt to connect with the deceased
- Decorate the gravestone in honor for a lost loved one
- Attempt to reconcile with or apologize to the deceased for a wrong
- Be sobered by our own mortality
- Meditate or think on the loss or the life of the deceased
Alternatively, if a loved one has been cremated, you may visit the place you scattered their ashes. I think the Bible would say some of these grave visitations are healthy, whereas others are probably unhealthy. Let’s dig into a few:
Biblical Grave Visitation
There a number of very healthy, appropriate, and even encouraged reasons for visiting the grave of a loved one:
Mourning and Weeping
The Bible is perfectly clear that mourning and weeping over the loss of a loved one is appropriate and even encouraged.
We see Jesus weep at the death of Lazarus. Though some argue He’s weeping at the people’s lack of faith, I believe He’s weeping at the loss of a dear friend. Or maybe a little bit of both.
Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 7:2,
“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting,”
Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to “weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.”
We serve a God who invites the full range of emotions. In fact, we serve a God who experienced the full range of emotions Himself while on earth.
Expressing Honor and Gratitude
Honoring and giving thanks to those who have gone before us is highlighted in the Bible.
Paul honors Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, in 1 Timothy 1. Much of the Old Testament speaks of blessing future generations through obedience to God.
Those who went before us in the faith are to be honored. If going to their grave to reflect and meditate on what they meant to you helps you to do so, go for it.
Unhealthy Grave Visitation
On the other hand, there are some not-so-Biblical reasons for visiting a grave or cemetery. Let’s look at a few.
Literally Connecting with the Dead
Some may genuinely attempt to connect with their deceased loved one, and hope they hear their name called. The Bible speaks to this in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, “There shall not be found among you . . . a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.” He also rules out divinations such as chakras.
Though found in Old Testament law, I believe Jesus’ ministry binds this. It’s dangerous to attempt to connect with the dead.
I use the term “literally” here because there’s probably nothing wrong with speaking some words at a graveside. As long as you’re not actually trying to connect and establish any real communication between the two of you.
It’s also worth mentioning here that the soul is not present at the grave. It has gone on. And the body will join the soul in Heaven upon Christ’s return.
To Do Penance
Perhaps you wronged this person at some point in your life, or you fell short of their standards for you. You may visit their grave to do penance and make up for your shortcomings because you feel guilty, or you think it might bring you good fortune or good luck.
The Bible does not teach us to deal with our guilt and sins in this way.
It’s natural to feel a sense of guilt or failure at the graveside of someone you loved and cared deeply for, but you can rest knowing the solution to the problem of guilt is found fully and completely in the blood of Jesus. You can rest in that.
And of course it goes without saying (as detestable as it is), visiting a grave for the purposes of cannibalism is unhealthy and unbiblical.
Visit the Graves of Loved Ones in Faith
The loss of a loved one can bring about a lot of confusion, doubt, despair, and sadness. This is okay and to be expected.
But be encouraged by the truths of scripture:
- Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54)
- Those who keep His word will not taste death (John 8:51)
- One day, He will wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4)
- The New Heavens and New Earth will be pretty sweet (Revelation)
Death is very real. Its impact is very tough. But it hasn’t had the final word. Jesus is victorious, and we are more than conquerors with Him.