You, Me, Paul, and the Walking Dead
The apostle Paul tells us, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (I Corinthians 15:13-14). Certainly, our preoccupation with all things undead has not waned in the years since Paul wrote these words. In fact, you could make a strong case that our interest in the undead has reached a fever pitch in recent years. These gnarly intruders have infiltrated every conceivable cultural domain; not even Jane Austen is immune. But why? Why do zombies continue to dominate popular entertainment?
Zombies would wear out their welcome very quickly if we didn’t find them relatable on some level. Since they’re still clawing at our doors and TV screens, this should give us pause for reflection. The most incisive treatments of zombies usually blur the lines between the living and the undead. The very title of a show like AMC’s The Walking Dead makes us uneasy not just because of the grisly mob it conjures, but because it contains a queasy note of self-identification. There is a very real sense in which all of us are the Walking Dead. Death’s roll call is mercilessly precise. We lead our short lives, and then expire as suddenly as we appeared. Death is one of life’s few guarantees. You could say that each of us is un-dead, or, in the unforgettable lines of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “not dead yet.”
For all their lack of subtlety, zombies bring so many of our deepest inner conflicts into a highly concentrated focus. A zombie is a slave of the body and its mindless appetites. Zombies are led on the leash of their own urges, and in them we see a chilling portrait of our own desires run amuck. None of us can imagine being dead; all of us can imagine a life of living death. Consider the many faces of addiction and you’re approaching zombie territory. In an age of excess, boredom, and overstimulation, zombies may just be the clearest distillation of all our worst fears. They’re here because we recognize them.
“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death” (Romans 7:24)? Dramatic as Paul’s words are, they could scarcely be more practical. We all know that our bodies are rebels, and we experience that rebellion every time sickness and death interrupt us and remind us that our biological machinery has an expiration date. Likewise, we experience this same rebellion every time our appetites overrule our true desires, so that we can’t even do what we want to do. Romans 7:15-20 reads like a vivid description of the lifeless dance of a zombie enslaved to its own urges.
Paul boldly declares that death is the last enemy to be abolished (I Corinthians 15:26). Death, it seems, demands a conqueror. What might the qualifications of such a conqueror be? Such a conqueror would need to be on intimate terms with what it means to be human. Moreover, death’s conqueror would need to have firsthand experience with death, to have drunk its bitter cup down to the very dregs. Finally, death’s conqueror would have to be the one who robs death of the last word, and restores that word to life.
This is why Paul directs us straight to the feet of Christ. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come” (II Corinthians 5:17). The complete expression of life is found in Christ alone. He is the only one who can say, “I am the resurrection and the life,” and he is the only one who can deliver us from this body of death, and revoke our status as members of the Walking Dead.
This post was written by Cameron McAllister.
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