Cemeteries have long been viewed as spooky, mostly due to the mysterious nature of death. Graveyards and tombs have provided the setting for countless tales of ghosts, devils, and crimes, leading many to fear cemeteries as haunted places filled with danger. The subject of death is uncomfortable for most people, but the Christian should have a different perspective about death and about going into a cemetery.
It may help people who fear going into a cemetery to confront that fear head-on by asking: What do you imagine might happen there? Fantasies and ghost stories aside, what realistic fears remain about cemeteries? They contain dead and decaying human bodies that are buried under six feet of soil. There are caskets, cement headstones, bronze markers, and plastic decorations left by loved ones. Other than a caretaker’s shed and possibly a chapel or mausoleum, there’s not much else there—and which of those factors cause the fear? The souls of those buried bodies have already been transported to their spiritual destinations (Luke 16:22).
There are only two possible places those departed spirits could be. For Christians, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). The souls of buried believers are with Jesus. Those who, in their earthly life, did not surrender to Jesus as Lord are in “a place of torment” (Luke 16:28). But no one’s spirit is allowed to float freely around a graveyard on its own. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment.” There is no possibility of departed spirits “haunting” the cemetery. The only real and present danger is the possibility of tripping over a headstone and scraping your knee.
Some who understand that souls of the deceased are not present at cemeteries may instead fear the presence of the demonic. Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20 mention a demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs. Still, even in this instance, the demonic activity involved a person who was very much alive. Could demons inhabit a graveyard? Yes, they could. But there is nothing in Scripture that indicates demons are more active in a graveyard than they are anywhere else. Further, Christians have nothing to fear from the demonic (1 John 4:4).
Sometimes the fear of going into a cemetery may be connected to a painful loss and the memories such a place evokes. Cemeteries are, by nature, somber places. They represent the pain of loss and remind us of our mortality. We don’t like stirring up old hurts, and cemeteries can do that. One way to overcome sorrow-related fear is to intentionally recall happy times with the deceased. As you walk through the cemetery, relive happy events and conversations with that person. Thank God for the good times shared and how He worked in your life through that departed friend. Thank Him that because of Jesus we can say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting” (1 Corinthians 15:55)?
Cemeteries will actually provide the venue for one of the most amazing events in human history. When Jesus comes back to receive us at the rapture, cemeteries will come to life. First Thessalonians 4:16 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Imagine that moment! For those of us who know Christ, the cemetery will be a place of celebration as the graves open and the bodies of saints rise into the air to meet their spirits. Then, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
A cemetery is only a plot of ground set aside to bury the dead, and there is no more reason to fear it than any other place. Christians can walk through the manicured grounds with a sense of gratefulness for all that God has done through His servants (see Psalm 116:15) and with a sense of anticipation at what God will do in that place. Beneath our feet rest the bodies of believers who will one day burst from that ground at the trumpet’s blast. Unbelievers should let the grim nature of a cemetery propel them to seek the truth about what happens next. The only proper fear would be a fear of God and His judgment. For unbelievers, going to a cemetery can be a life-changing experience as they grapple with their own mortality and turn toward God.