These are the times that try the soul, as unspeakable tragedies rock our news headlines and each of us look for answers, justice, comfort, or simply a measure of hope that these harsh reminders of the delicate nature of life will result in something positive, somehow, some way. I am very poorly qualified to provide any of these things, but I feel compelled to share a few thoughts that are stuck in my head. Remaining sensitive to these very real and painful experiences that impact us each differently requires a column that will be much lower key than usual. Death is one of the most challenging words in any language to read or write because of the serious connotations that exist, and I will not take this subject lightly.
A rising trend in the world of gaming is the existence of “Permadeath”, a state in which the player character is permanently and irrevocably gone and while the game may continue the participant must choose a new protagonist to carry on the campaign. No cheap continue screen or a mission reload to pretend that this never happened…no, just as in our real world death in these instances is final. One of the more popular titles to use this device is State of Decay, a zombie apocalypse simulator that embraces the unforgiving dynamic of Permadeath in perhaps one of the most challenging scenarios in which to have to come to grips with it. As I pondered this, my musings turned towards the entire apocalyptic zombie genre and its sudden emergence in mainstream popularity. Television, cinema, literature, gaming, comics and more have been swept into a tidal wave of fascination with the undead. So what drives our society and our culture towards these themes?
|No cheap continue screen or mission reload to pretend this never happened…|
I believe finding this answer will provide some insight on our opening subject, as it is often through our chosen entertainment that our true selves and secret internal battles are revealed. In the 80’s we dealt with Cold War fears with escapist, feel-good themes of American heroes triumphing over ridiculous odds as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Norris and more filled cinema screens with heroic conquests and the A-Team saved the day each week on TV. The 90’s emerged with sarcasm and humor to deal with our jaded views on society and government as sitcoms stormed the airwaves. In this millennium the craze of reality television was simply the reflection of the desire to matter as an individual, and our society has unfortunately continued to gorge ourselves on the desire for instant celebrity ever since. So why zombies, and why now? What does this reveal to us about ourselves and our culture, and what do we do with this knowledge?
It would be too easy to dismiss this as a fad or cultural phenomenon without significance. As we increase our technology and capabilities we grow more and more frustrated as a society with our inability to halt the steady march of our inescapable enemy, death. Scientifically we can do and create so many wondrous things and our capabilities grow by the day, but we still cannot add one minute to our life span. And just like the unending, mindless march of a horde of zombies, death continues to bear down on each of us without discrimination. The good, the bad, the famous, the anonymous… We all have an appointment we are not permitted to be late for, and none of our toys or our tech can do more than delay the inevitable. And I find that our grim acceptance of this fate powers our fascination with the undead, as it gives us a more tangible adversary to paint our frustrations on. In a strange way a zombie humanizes death, giving it a face that we can fight against even with our knowledge that resistance will ultimately prove futile. And in these tales of an undead apocalypse, whether gaming or non-interactive media, the characters are all equalized by their common enemy regardless of their previous societal standing. Convicts lock arms with lawmen and fame is as useless as the celluloid a movie is printed on as life is reduced in complexity to the simple desire to survive another day.
|Our railing against the slow stalking menace of death is natural and expected.|
Scripture is not silent on the topic of death. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most consistent themes layered thoughout the text. Starting with Genesis 4 there is scarcely a chapter within the Bible that does not include this in concept or in actuality. The severing of a life here on earth was never the design for any of us, and as we see in Genesis 3:19 it was a result of the choice Adam made to disobey God in the garden that this process entered our reality. Romans 6:23 illustrates it quite clearly by stating that the wages of sin is death, and Romans 5:12 narrows it down further by stating that death entered the world through one man’s sin. Death is unnatural for us to consider because we weren’t designed for it. Our bodies were engineered for constant regeneration, but this miracle has been sabotaged by the presence of sin that has brought death into the machine that is our bodies. Our railing against the slow stalking menace of death is natural and expected.
Many kind-hearted believers have attempted to comfort me during times of loss over the years with Scriptures that are meant to encourage, but honestly ring a bit hollow when you are the one doing the mourning. I am aware that the death of a saint is precious to the Lord, and that He is in control of all things, with a date and time for our departure already determined before we even take the stage for the first time. I can’t say that those thoughts are always tremendously comforting, and to be honest we should never accept death as anything less than how God views it: an outcome of sin that was never meant to exist, and as such is marked for a final judgement of its own.
|God ‘s view of death: an outcome of sin that was never meant to exist.|
The Apostle Paul describes death quite succinctly in 1 Cor. 15:26… Our final enemy. A boss fight with no cheat codes that can seemingly enter the game at will. Yet this same Paul in Phillipians 1:21-23 did not view this enemy like the relentless Nemesis from Resident Evil plaguing him throughout his life journey, but rather as a necessary separation from those he would leave behind so he could begin his eternal life with the Lord beyond death’s grasp. This was not a fatalistic view, even in the light of his statement “to live is Christ and to die is gain”, because he clearly demonstrated that he understood the impact his departure would have on those he would leave behind, and as they still had need of him he was satisfied to remain here on earth until his time was truly up. As hard as it is to accept the finality of death as it relates to us remaining on this plane of existence, the truth is every day we are here is a gift meant to be used, as Paul demonstrates to us here, to build up others and prepare them for both this life and its continuation on the other side of the looking glass. Paul could hold death in such a view because he exhausted himself daily in his endeavor to share the life and message of Jesus, holding at its core the beautiful truth in 1 Thess. 4:13-14 that reanimation and final victory over death awaits each of us who have chosen Christ.
|It is high time we show the world that the truth about how the dead WILL walk the earth again…|
Death is our enemy, and it is right that we should mourn the evil it afflicts upon our world and our loved ones. And because the hourglass for not only ourselves but all those around us is perpetually decreasing in volume we are compelled to use each day and hour wisely… To care enough to share God and His love liberally with all, allowing our life to reach its fullest potential by following His plan for our lives. Permadeath can only be avoided by bringing those we meet into contact with the One who described Himself as the way, the truth, and the LIFE. Our world has reached the point of obsession with the dead coming back to life… It is high time we show them that the dead WILL walk the earth again (Rev 21 and 22). But this time there will be no more death (21:4), the tree of life will be opened for our access once and for all (22:2 and 14), and all are invited to the party (22:17). All that’s left to do is to extend the invitation to everyone you know and in so doing rob death of one more eternal victim at a time. That is how we can claim victory here and in the life to come as well as wipe that smug grin off of death’s face. I don’t know when or how the final number will be called for you or me… But thanks to the victory of Jesus over death we WILL be back!