Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Walking and the Resurrected Dead: Is Jesus Relevant after the Zombie Apocalypse

The Walking Dead isn’t really about zombies. I mean, there are definitely a lot of zombies on the show. But these “walking dead” mostly serve the purpose of creating a horrific and dangerous post-apocalyptic world. The question the show tries to answer is not “What’s the best way to deal with zombies?” but “How do humans behave when faced with horror and tragedy?”
Zombies have long since ceased to be be the main threat on The Walking Dead. If anything, they serve to make the circumstances of the characters categorically different from the hardships faced by the viewer. For the most part, the show is set up in a way that the viewer is forced to admit that normal societal norms can’t apply. In such a world, can Christianity have a place anymore? In a world where survival is a constant struggle, does Jesus have anything relevant to say?
Church scene from the first season of The Walking Dead
Every character on The Walking Dead has faced tragedy. Lost limbs, lost loved ones, lost futures. And now they face the daily challenges of hunger, exhaustion, and a constant feeling of danger. Because of this, many characters in this “new” world abandon morality, hope, and each other. Many begin to prey on the weak and even resort to cannibalism. The protagonists must then face living enemies who are just as horrific as the walking dead. Throughout the series, characters repeatedly explain that their new reality demands new rules and a more ruthless and pragmatic approach to living.
Of course, zombies certainly do set the world of The Walking Dead apart from our own. But that doesn’t mean real people never see the same levels of horror. Surely, what the Jews faced during the Holocaust and what the Tutsis faced during the Rwandan genocide was just as horrendous (if not more so) than what Rick and his gang face on The Walking Dead. And, even today, millions of people are starving refugees, forced from their homes by wars in Syria, Central African Republic, Iraq, and other places. I’m not being flippant when I say that the horrors of a zombie apocalypse may be different but are certainly not worse than what these people have faced.
But what about those of us safe and sound in our Western bubble? Well, personally I feel I’ve mostly escaped tragedy. But I know plenty of people who have lost multiple children, who’ve been abused, who’ve suffered violence and other awful things. Their stories may not have the same scope or emotional impact of the Holocaust or a fictional zombie apocalypse. But their stories of suffering still force us to confront the evil in our world.
All of this is simply to say that many of the questions raised on The Walking Dead are not strictly hypothetical. Because, again, the questions on the show are not really about the dead but the living. How will we behave in the face of tragedy? How will we persevere in hope when faced with seemingly hopeless prospects?
If Christianity can answer these questions for our often horrific reality, then it can also do so for the world created by The Walking Dead. Christianity has a unique answer to the question of suffering. We do not say suffering is merely the result of karma or a life poorly lived. It isn’t the sign of God’s disapproval. And so, the response to suffering is not simply to live better and hope for the best. Neither are we resigned to accept suffering as inevitable. Our answer to why suffering exists has to do with the way sin corrupts everything. But we’re more concerned here with our response to suffering, not its origin.
Christ as the “Man of Sorrows” by Geertgen tot Sint Jans
And this is where Jesus sets himself apart from other gods. Because our God didn’t leave us here to suffer alone with only theological platitudes as comfort. God became man. He became one of us and suffered with us. God suffered violence and loss. He suffered rejection, abuse, and ultimately a torturous death. So we can say “God is with us.” Not in a vague spiritual sense. But in the literal sense of the flesh. God took on flesh and suffered right along side us. In doing so, he also redeemed these things. Now, our suffering has meaning. Not in a practical “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” kind of way but in a cosmic redemption kind of way. Now we can have hope. No matter what kind of loss and pain we endure. We have hope because God is with us. Hope both for the future and the present. Hope to sustain us no matter what may come. Hope in our daily struggles, in war, disaster and even a zombie apocalypse.


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