I was not a fan of The Walking Dead when it started. I am not a horror, scary movie kind of person. As a matter of fact, I hate being startled. Just not my thing. But, I was looking for something to watch on Netflix and I thought, “Let me give this show a chance.” I didn’t know what to expect, but I started to really enjoy the characters and the story. Story is a such an important thing for me. If there is a good story I (usually) will watch or listen.
After watching the first few episodes I was hooked. I began to watch all the seasons. I am not going to defend the show or promote it either. I know that there are people who like it and some who don’t and for all kinds of reasons. That is not the point of this post.
My entire life, my father taught us to learn what we could from any source. So, I want to apply that principle here. As I have been listening to the pundits, reading the self-professed expertise of amateur commentators on social media, and taken some time to reflect on the current state of affairs in the world, a funny thought hit me—we may be actually living in the zombie apocalypse!
It has happened. It is almost as if I woke up this morning and all hell has broken loose in the world. I really have no idea what is going on right now. It is all really disorienting. Well, maybe that is just me.
When I first started watching The Walking Dead I genuinely thought, “This will never happen.” Then after a couple of seasons of immersing myself in this new world, I started to seriously consider what I would do if I found myself in a similar situation. If you have watched the show, I know you have as well. The most interesting part of all this was the way that most people I talked to or read struggled to figure out how they would live in the world that The Walking Dead presents to us.
After thinking about all this there are 4 ways that The Walking Dead has prepared me for the 2016 election season.
1. Exposed that the World has changed
It took Rick Grimes about 3 seasons to accept the change in the world. As a sheriff’s deputy, Rick lived according to a particular code of conduct. He was a law enforcement officer. That meant that there were things he could do and things he could not. There were things that he would do and things that he would not. But, when he was confronted with the new world, he struggled to find his place in it.
This is exactly how I have been feeling. The world has changed. I am in the second half of my third decade of going around the sun. I have seen a few things. Not as much as others, but enough to know that I am not living in the world I was born into.
And, more to the point, I am definitely not living in the same world I was born again into. Even the moral compass of the church has been tampered with by the influence of the world. There are times when I simply do not recognize anything familiar about those that claim to be a part of the family of faith.
The church has been listening to the voices of the world and is now reaping the fruit of that decision. The antagonisms that have marked the last decade or so can be seen in the church as well. Accusations, insinuations, and a general spirit of rebellion has become the standard operating procedure. Sure there have been some who are trying to stem the tide, but it has not been enough. And, it may be too little too late.
2. Highlighted that the Rules have changed
When Rick woke up in the hospital after the world fell apart there was one thing he did not know. The rules had changed. Nothing that he knew about life before the end applied in the world where Walkers roamed the earth.
Whether we like it or not, if you are a Christian, the game has changed. I am not saying that we are supposed to change the Gospel or God’s word to accommodate the world. I am saying that we have to recognize the world for what it is if we are going to continue to accomplish the task God has given to us.
I have always found Jesus’ words to the disciples in Matthew 10:16 very interesting.
16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
What does this mean? It means that we have to see with an unbiased eye what is actually happening. We can’t pretend that the world is any way other than what it is. This is not pessimism. It is wisdom. In biblical terms, we are talking about discernment. As men and women of faith, we have to cultivate our ability to see every single thing, not just what is in front of us. We have to try to make sense of what is contributing to what is happening around us.
Most days I feel that there is so little discernment being employed my those who claim to be in Christ. If we are sheep and we are going out into a world populated by wolves, we do that fighting against every natural tendency we have. This means that we don’t go out taunting the wolves and drawing unnecessary attention to what we are doing. If we continue to act like sheep, flaunting our sheepishness in front of wolves, then wolves will do what wolves do and eat the sheep. We have to be wise and yet maintain the innocence that marks a life committed to Jesus.
3. Revealed that People have changed
I think this was the biggest struggle for Rick, and it is for me. People have truly changed. Rick wanted (and I would argue still hopes) for people to be the same. Or at least to return to who they used to be. However, that is no longer possible. Too much has happened in the world. Too much has been seen. Too much done. Too much lost. The world of the walking dead is not for the naive. If you are going to survive you have to be sober-minded in ways you never thought necessary.
Every decision we make changes us. Every single one. If we do not see this, we will become victims of our own ignorance.
Every choice has a consequence, if not in the world, in me. I am changed when I go in one direction rather than another. Choose one path over another. And because we cannot rewind time, we are left trying to make the best of the choices we made.
What we do not see is that if we do not steel ourselves to make the choices that need to be made when the moment of decision presents itself we will lose more than our freedom, we lose our identity. This reminds me of Kevin Costner’s movie Tin Cup, where the main character, Roy McAvoy takes a golf shot even though he is threatened with being fired. This is what he says.
Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy: [Explaining the golf shot he made as David’s caddy] When a defining moment comes along you define the moment or the moment defines you. 1
Every choice we fail to proactively and intentionally make will leave us deflated and despondent. The power of choice is what separates us from the animals. When we relinquish this prerogative, we become no better than brutes ourselves.
4. Confirmed that the Ethics have Changed
Now, this one is the most interesting. As Rick came to grips with how everything he knew no longer made sense in his current reality, he had to embrace life in the world he found himself. This struggle is shown throughout every season and in almost every episode. If you are a true fan, you probably participated in the dual-screen experience. Once of the ways to interact is to decide where an action falls on a Tactical & Morality Matrix (example below).
What makes this matrix interesting is that as you consider the action and this set of alternatives, you can see how people are importing the ethical assumptions of the real world into the imagined world of The Walking Dead, when they shouldn’t. If the world has changed, and the rules have changed, and the people have changed, how can we, as the viewers, continue to hold onto the same ethics in this demonstrably different world? The answer is we should not.
Now, I say all of this to make this point. If the internal logic of the show holds, then you should be able to accept all of the premises presented by the show. When you do not, you will not be able to follow the characters on their journey. The show presents us, the viewers, with a particular perspective and we have a choice. We can either accept it or reject it. If we can accept it for what it is we can enjoy the show and the story. If we cannot, then we prove ourselves incapable of understanding the world presented and should move on to another show that better suits our sensibilities (a luxury the characters of the show do not have!).
What we should not do is pretend that if everything else has changed that we can continue to do things the way we have always done them. This is the main reason that Walking Dead fans had a problem with the spin-off show Fear the Walking Dead. I don’t know how many times I screamed at the characters of Fear about how stupid they were when dealing with the Walkers. That was until I realized that they had no idea what I was talking about. These characters are experiencing the rise of the walking dead. They did not have the experiences that the cast of the original series, and I as a viewer, had. They simply did not know. But, they learned quickly.
This is why Rick’s three questions make so much sense in the show.
- How many walkers have you killed?
- How many people have you killed?
These three questions accept the new world, the new rules, the new people, and the new ethics. But, they also help to orient all who ask and answer them to the realities of a world teeming with the walking dead. When we cannot find our bearings in a changing world we will be left behind in a world that no longer exists. Or worse, consumed by the monsters of the new.
But… God has not Changed
Now, what does Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead, and the election have to do with anything? This, as a Christian there are two realities that I have to keep in tension at all times. The first reality is that my allegiance is to the kingdom of God. This means that I take my cues for who I am and how I am to behave from what God has told me to do. The priorities, principles, and propositions of the world must never override or overshadow what God has instructed. The pull of the world is strong. And it can be a challenge to not allow the world’s way of doing things to affect our commitments to God’s purposes.
The second reality is that the systems of this world are not the means by which God will accomplish any of his purposes. It does not matter how well intentioned and well spoken the princes and principalities of this world are, they are not the agents of eternal transformation. Only the body of Christ has been given the task of taking the truth of the Gospel to a hurting and dying world. A world that is full of the (spiritually) Walking Dead who can only be made alive by the power of God through and by the faithful preaching of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Any and every time the people of God get wrapped up in the affairs of the world, as a means of achieving the will of God, they will fail! It will be a failure, not because some “good” can’t be done, but because the ultimate good will not be served. The small gains made using the schemes and methods of the world are antithetical to the means of God. Paul’s instruction to Timothy bears repeating here. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him”(2 Timothy 2:4 ESV). The idea of having been drafted into the ranks of the army of God is one sorely missing and desperately needed in the church today.
What makes the world of The Walking Dead different from our world is that we have a God who does not change superintending the affairs of the universe. There are religious people in the show, but there is no real interest in conforming to God’s way of doing things. Even the faithful must conform or become victims of the terrors of the new reality.
The most important lesson I have learned from The Walking Dead is that if I do not prepare for what is coming, I will not survive in a way that is consistent and in accordance to what God expects, and even demands, from me. If you count yourself as one of the living among the dead, we must look around us and decide how we will live. Will we live in the light of God’s grace, aligning our lives with God’s precepts? Or, will we allow the darkness of the world to overshadow the light of Christ within us? The choice is yours… for now.