RICHMOND, Va. – Watch out. They’re coming. And if they bite you, you’ll soon be joining them – after you die an agonizing death, reanimate and become one of the “undead.”
I’m talking about zombies, of course. You can find them stumbling around looking for their next human snack in countless comics, books, computer games and movies. “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular shows on TV, follows the grim adventures of survivors of the zombie apocalypse as they fight off hordes of mindless-but-hungry creatures in Georgia. No wisecracks, please; that’s my home state.
How did zombies become so big all of a sudden? It’s not all that sudden. George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” the low-budget movie that started the flesh-eating zombie craze, oozed onto theater screens in 1968. In fact, zombies entered American pop culture long before that. American soldiers who occupied Haiti in the 1920s brought back fearful tales of dead men working the fields, controlled by evil voodoo masters – part superstition, part folklore emerging from the brutal Caribbean legacy of slavery. “White Zombie,” starring Bela Lugosi (the original movie Dracula), came out in 1932.
There are any number of theories floating around about why folks are fascinated with zombies, ranging from our timeless appetite for scary stories to heavy-duty dissertations analyzing our fear of global pandemics, terrorism, world-ending wars and even the dehumanizing effects of consumer culture.
But there’s a deeper and more universal human fear underlying the zombie obsession: our dread of death itself. And what comes after.
“The zombie’s horror is that he is … a slave forever,” culture commentator Russell Moore (president-elect of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commisssion) wrote in a Baptist Press column last year. “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’re horrifying because they represent what ought to repulse us: the rotting decay of death. But they still walk. And beyond that, they still crave. … [T]hey are driven along by their appetites, though always under the sway of a slave master’s will. That’s our story” – the story, in other words, of fallen human beings enslaved by sin and death.
No matter how hard our youth-obsessed culture tries to convince us otherwise, we know death is coming. I appreciated the honesty of actress Valerie Harper, whose recent announcement that she has incurable brain cancer brought a national wave of sympathy. “We’re all terminal,” she responded to well-wishers in one interview. “And we have a lot of fear [about] death.”
To allay that fear, secularists and pop spirituality hucksters assure us there are no such things as heaven, hell or a God who will judge our sins in view of eternity. We know deep down they are wrong, but many of us go along with the charade or fail to challenge it. It’s a comforting fiction for folks who reject or redefine biblical truth. It won’t be very comforting on Judgment Day.
Then there are the millions who ignore death (and any other serious subject) altogether. They also tend to ignore their own souls and consciences. They “live” for the moment – like zombies. Perhaps you have noticed this tendency among those who have turned themselves over to technology, one of our contemporary false gods. Psychiatrist Keith Ablow described one of the worst manifestations of this form of idolatry in an article about the Ohio teens who stood by and watched, even taking and posting pictures and videos, as a female classmate rendered helpless by alcohol was sexually assaulted for hours:
“Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived ‘reality TV’ programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting, and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie. They are absent from their own lives and those of others. They are floating free in a virtual world where nothing really matters other than being cool observers of their own detached existence….”
What a pathetic way to waste a life, which is intended by God to prepare us for eternity.
Evil takes ever-changing forms, but it comes from two ancient sources: sin and death. Only one Person has defeated both. Jesus knew His beloved friend Lazarus was dead before He reached Bethany, as the story is told in the Gospel of John, chapter 11. Lazarus’ sisters had sent word, begging Jesus to hurry to the village to heal their ill brother. But He delayed His arrival. By the time He got there, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.
“Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” (John 11:39-44, NASB).
Jesus had authority over death, and He glorified His Father by raising Lazarus. On Easter morning, God glorified Himself by raising Jesus. At that moment, the power of sin and death was crushed for all time. For all who believe and follow Him, there is no longer any reason to fear death – or what follows. What follows is eternity in the presence of God.
Our zombified world desperately needs that message.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com.)