As bad as life is for our heroes on The Walking Dead, could things be worse?
**Spoiler Alert: This article speaks about The Walking Dead TV series in general, mentioning briefly some events in Seasons 4 & 5.**
Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead:
BAD TO WORSE
Often, when I’m watching The Walking Dead, the following thought comes to mind:
Well, things could be worse.
And I don’t mean for the characters. I mean for the real world. As bad as things are – or can be – or have been – the characters on The Walking Dead certainly have it worse than the majority of us.
Americans, even those considered disadvantaged in the U.S., are much better off than most of the world. Let’s be honest, many of the issues we struggle with in the U.S. are what have been popularly (and accurately) called “First-World Problems.” Please understand I’m not trying to downplay anyone’s real struggles, but – if you’ll allow me to state the starkly obvious – things would certainly be much worse for those in the U.S. and other privileged countries if a zombie outbreak erupted.
But, it can be argued, even those in poor countries have it better than The Walking Dead characters. For instance, the poor often have to struggle just to acquire food; the characters on The Walking Dead have to struggle to acquire food and avoid becoming food by equally hungry zombies. So, it could be said to those in the Third World – the Global South – Hey, things could be worse.
The only situation where the world of The Walking Dead might be preferred over real life is in the most extreme situations, where human evil and oppression is at its worse or a land continually ravaged by war or — as often is the case — both. (It’s interesting to watch our Walking Dead heroes’ difficulty at adjusting to domestic life in Alexandria, showing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder like so many soldiers returning home from war.)
As we talked about in earlier articles, the threat from the living in The Walking Dead is worse than the threat from the mindless dead. Often the evil of the other living humans that our heroes encounter is on the same plane as the evil of Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler. After all, the treatment of people in places like Terminus – including being imprisoned in miserable conditions and having their throats systematical cut in a literal human slaughterhouse – is not unlike what one would experience at the hands of Nazis or ISIS.
But still, why aren’t things worse?
I’m not trying to be flippant about suffering at the hands of evil. Where it’s difficult to think of any situation of individual suffering being worse than, say, being starved and tortured in a concentration camp or scourged, pierced with nails, hung on a cross, and left to die, the question I’m asking is,
Why aren’t things worse overall, throughout the whole world?
Yes, pockets of incredible evil and suffering no doubt exist (and have existed) throughout the world, but it would be inaccurate to say such suffering exists everywhere at all times.
In other GFTM articles about The Walking Dead, we’ve spoken about how God restrains evil through the establishment of government and innate moral law. Further, in the last GTFM Walking Dead article, we spoke about God’s providence over his creation, that God didn’t just create the universe and now has nothing to do with it, but that he’s actively involved in sustaining and preserving it. Through Jesus Christ, God the Son, “all things hold together” (Col.1:17), and “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb.1:3).
Simply, this means if God withdrew from his active involvement, things would without-a-doubt be worse. In fact, as funny as it sounds, after fighting tooth-and-nail through a swarm of zombies and barely escaping alive, Rick Grimes could release a deep breath and say, “Well, things could be worse”— and he’d be right.
Accuse me of simplifying things, but let’s think of it this way: the more God withdraws, the worse things get. Now, let me really over-simplify things: Let’s break the idea of God’s withdraw into 3 possible levels of withdraw to illustrate — the higher the number, the more God withdraws:
LEVEL 1: God withdraws and allows evil and suffering.
LEVEL 2: God withdraws and all life dies.
LEVEL 3: God withdraws and everything ceases to exist.
Level 1 requires the most explanation, so let’s start with Level 2. If God sustains all things, he could simply cease to do so and life would end. Perhaps all vegetation dies, leading to mass starvation; perhaps the sun burns out; perhaps oxygen ceases to be oxygen; or perhaps our hearts simply stop pumping.
Next, let’s not jump right to Level 3 in this thought experiment. Let’s go to Level 2.5. Perhaps gravity stops working and we all float out into lifeless space. Perhaps the planets reel out of their orbits and collide.
Now, at “Level 3,” if God completely ended his active involvement, all that he has created would simply cease to exist. Much like God created everything out of nothing, everything would return to nothing.
Level 1 is what we experience today. For a deeper discussion of why there is evil and suffering in the world, read an earlier GFTM article called “Disasters, Disease, & Death — Why is there Natural Suffering?” But to keep it quick and simple here, we should note that the Bible confirms both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Suffering and evil is due to human sin, which God allows. Why does he allow it? One possible answer is love cannot exist without freewill. Logically, with the freewill to love comes the freewill to do evil. Further, due to sin, a curse weighs on all of creation, which leads to natural disasters, diseases, and death.
But we can’t talk about all this without mentioning God’s mercy and what theologians call God’s common grace. Since I wrote about common grace before in the article mentioned above, I hope you don’t mind if I lazily quote myself:
Common grace is the doctrine that due to sin, the world should be much worse than it is, yet God shows mercy and allows us to still enjoy the good things of this earth he created.
Common grace means even nonbelievers benefit from God’s good creation and mercy, which can include everything from their innate sense of morals, to meaningful relationships, to the beauty of nature, to food, music, and sex. The difference though between the believer and nonbeliever is that the believer recognizes these good things are from God and they worship the Creator instead of the creation.
Concerning God’s mercy, we see it in the Bible even when the world was first plunged into the curse due to sin: Adam and Eve were warned that the outcome of sin is death (both physically and spiritually), and though death is now a normal part of life, God didn’t kill them immediately. Moreover, even when God kicked them out of the garden, he showed the lovingness of a Father by making them clothes from animal skins (Genesis 3:21).
The Bible goes on to tell the story of the continuing corruption of God’s good creation by man’s sinfulness, yet throughout we see God showing mercy. Even when he destroys most of mankind with the flood, he spares Noah and his family; even when he allows sinful Israel to be taken into captivity by Babylon, he preserves a remnant. And this brings us right back to common grace. If God withdrew all of his blessings from us, the world would be a much more horrible place (whether because of human evil or natural catastrophe) or just a desolate, lifeless rock floating in space — or, most likely, nothing would exist at all.
WHAT DOES GOD OWE US?
God is not obligated to do anything for us. He gave us our very lives, which he didn’t have to do. All good things we experience are blessings from him (James 1:17). When he withdraws blessings, we experience suffering.
We see this continually in the Old Testament with God and Israel. God blessed Israel in many ways, making them his own people to represent him on earth, yet when Israel turns away from him, breaking the covenant they made with God, God withdraws his blessings, allowing pagan nations to harm, even conquer, Israel. It should be noted that God didn’t cause the evil actions of the pagan nations, but he willingly removed his protection from Israel and allowed the pagan nations to follow their own sinful desires.
The situations of God’s withdraw from ancient Israel may have been to different degrees or for different lengths of time, but God often preserved Israel, and this was due wholly to God’s mercy and grace. He was within his rights to fully and completely withdraw his blessings.
WHAT IS HELL?
This withdraw of God’s blessing is foreshadowing hell. The Bible gives little details about hell, and most peoples’ ideas about hell aren’t based on the Bible but the medieval epic poem Inferno from Dante’s Divine Comedy, whether they realize that or not. There are no descriptions in the Bible of demons torturing people in hell, but Jesus is clear that hell is a place where no one wants to be. He calls it a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt.13:42; Luke 13:28).
Since God is omnipresent, we know that God is not absent from hell in a sense, but hell is clearly a place where God’s blessings are absent. In hell, God has totally withdrawn his blessings. Whatever other characteristics hell has, this we can be sure of.
As we discussed in earlier GFTM Walking Dead articles, once government is removed from practicing law, order, and justice, chaos and evil are free to reign. Further, in hell, there will no longer be a sense of coming divine judgment to curb evil. The innate sense of morals we have will finally be completely deadened. In hell, those there will be unrestrained to follow their evil desires. It will be every person for himself; a land of absolute autonomy, which means a land of absolute selfishness.
(Often people protest against the doctrine of hell, saying it’s unjust for God to infinitely punish finite sins. Why do people assume sinning will stop in hell?)
Admittedly, some of my portrayal of hell may be mistaken, but I’m sure of this: In hell, all of God’s blessings will be entirely removed, and even without horned demons, pitchforks, and medieval torture racks, this idea is utterly terrifying.
NEXT: Who are the walking dead? We are.
Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead: