Theology of the Zombie Apocalypse

People come back from the dead all the time...

People come back from the dead all the time…

I realize that I am late to the party, but I have been catching up on The Walking Dead and various other zombie apocalypse entertainment lately. It’s really good television, but if there is one thing I have noticed about the impending zombie apocalypse it is this: there is a remarkable lack of pastoral care after the world ends. Granted, I’m only on season two, but I highly doubt that there is going to be a sudden abundance of people wandering around in clerical collars as the show progresses.

Now I don’t really expect, nor do I really want, television to be the vehicle though which any images of ministry and the Church come to us. When television does give images of the Church or pastoral ministry they are inevitably filled with bad theology and a poor understanding of what the Church is actually like. To use another apocalyptic movie series as an example, The Matrix and it’s two sequels have a lot of religious themes. However, those themes are an incoherent mix of Christian theology, heresy of one sort or another, and Buddhism. I prefer The Walking Dead and its silence on the subject. 

You might be a Church nerd if you are thinking about pastoral care while watching zombies (again, apologies to Jeff Foxworthy).

You might be a Church nerd if you are thinking about pastoral care while watching zombies (again, apologies to Jeff Foxworthy).

That being said, the world suddenly gets thrown into chaos and all the talk about God disappears. It is an interesting view of the world that is unfortunate because Lutheran theology actually has a lot to say about where God is in the midst of the crap of the world.

After all, the theme of death is a Christian theme. Christian theology isn’t adamant about a lot, but one thing it is adamant about is this: all things die. If the son of God died then I doubt anyone gets to escape that fate. However, zombies are a good image for what our society tries to do. We try and prolong life (both life for people and life for our institutions) as long as possible. In doing that we forget that death is a part of being human.

Now the story would pretty sad if it ended there and even if the story doesn’t end there death is still very sad. However, there is another thing that Luther’s theology of the cross is adamant about: that God is most present in the crap. The Walking Dead reveals something about theology. It is fairly easy to talk about God in the midst of power, glory, wealth, and good times. However, when everything goes to pieces we find ourselves lacking language to even talk about God. The Walking Dead‘s silence on the subject is a logical conclusion. However, if we really believe in the cross than we should believe that God is most at work in the complete mess of the world. To put this another way: the traditional language of the Apostles Creed states that Christ  “descended into Hell.” I hold on to that language because it means that what ever chaos we are in God is in it too.

St. Paul writes that “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Certainly in a zombie apocalypse that verse has new meaning. Popular entertainment seems to be saying that certain situations are too extreme for anything to be said about God. That may or may not be true. However, I am convinced that even if we were silent during the end of the world, God would still be at work.

About dkamphuis

I'm an ELCA pastor preaching, teaching, thinking, and writting about what it means to be the church today.
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