Zombies are everywhere. Ever since the classic “Night of the Living Dead,” the undead have shown up in movies. Zombies now are featured in top-rated cable TV shows, and in apocalyptic novels and survival guides. An entire genre has ignited around the concept of adding zombies to classic literature (“Pride and Prejudice with Zombies,” etc.). But why are we drawn to these gruesome figures?
In the New York Times, columnist Amy Wilentz reminds us why zombies scare us, and why we can’t help but watch through our clenched hands covering our eyes. The zombie myth is rooted in something quite real, and quite terrifying. The zombie stories emerged in a Caribbean context of brutal slavery. The zombie’s horror is that he is, she writes, a slave forever. After all, if even death cannot free you, you can never be free.
That’s exactly the point, and here’s why it should matter to Christians.
Zombies are horrifying not simply because they’re mean and aggressive. They are horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And, beyond that, they still crave. In their search for human brains, they are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slavemaster’s will.
That’s our story.
The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.
The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.
And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).
Caribbean people could resonate with the horror of zombies because they knew what it was like to be enslaved by evil people, with no hope of escape. And maybe our culture pays attention to zombies because we know what it is like to be dead inside, but unable to find peace, unable to stop walking.
The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.
Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.
So let’s have some sympathy for the zombies. And next time you see the trailer for a zombie film, or see the picture of a walking corpse on the cover of a novel, remember that that was your story once too.