The Walking Dead, Lost Hope & God’s Providence

Can a fictional TV show cause lose of hope in real viewers? Who are the real walking dead? Why does the sun rise everyday?

 

Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

***SPOILER ALERT: This article speaks about The Walking Dead series in general, but focuses mostly on Season 5, Episode 10.***

walking-dead_rick_zombies

Can a Fictional TV Show Cause Real Lose of Real Hope in Real Viewers?

In an on-going story about a zombie apocalypse, where the characters are surrounded by the bleak reality that much of the world is dead, much of the remaining living have embraced evil and brutality, and much of the personal bonds our heroes form with others are snuffed out by death faster than you can shout, “Carl!” in a southern accent, hopelessness is inevitable.

In fact, I image one of the hardest parts of writing a series like The Walking Dead is keeping the tension going without the audience, not just the characters, loosing all hope.

I know of at least one friend whose wife refuses to watch the show anymore because she said it was simply too depressing. With a story concept like The Walking Dead, writing conflict into the script isn’t the challenge; the challenge is keeping the audience from being overcome by the bleakness.

Because, let’s face it, if there will ever be a TV show in history that loses viewers because they’ve grown too hopeless to continue watching, it’s The Walking Dead.

The only way to keep the audience (and characters) from plunging into an abyss of depression is to occasionally have an episode where some hope – no matter how small – breaks into an otherwise desolate desert of despair. When thinking about this, I can’t help but think about Episode 10 of Season 5, titled “Them.”

 walkingdead_gabriel

Religious Undertones on Secular TV

The episode begins – like so many episodes – with the characters reeling from more deaths in their group. This time it’s the death of Tyreese and Beth, and understandably the two characters most affected by those deaths are the sisters of the deceased, Sasha and Maggie. What makes this episode unusual are the religious undertones.

Maggie’s father Hershel was open about his Christian faith, but the living – not the undead – needlessly killed him, like his youngest daughter Beth. Whatever amount of faith Maggie had she clearly renounces it in this episode. She tells Father Gabriel, “My daddy used to be religious. I used to be.”

Father Gabriel tries to reach out to Maggie, offering to be a sympathetic ear, but Maggie rips into him for failing miserably in doing one of the main things a shepherd is to do: protect his flock. (Could Maggie be taking her anger at God out on the one character left that represents God in some way?)

Later, Father Gabriel, utterly defeated, throws his priest’s collar into a fire. Does this action mean he is denouncing his work as a man of God or is he denouncing his faith all together, like Maggie?

But if Father Gabriel did, in fact, denounce his faith at that moment, it’s not long before he embraces it again. As the group is struggling desperately with thirst, it begins to rain. Based on the expressions on some of their faces, you can almost hear thoughts asking: Is some higher power looking out for us?

There is no doubt this is what Father Gabriel is thinking, because he says, looking up into the falling rain, “I’m sorry, my Lord.” He recognizes that all good things come from God (James 1:17). But not so fast — what could be life-giving rainfall abruptly changes into a dangerous thunderstorm!

The group seeks shelter in an old barn. As soon as they enter the barn, Maggie spots a much too conveniently-placed Holy Bible. They also find a woman who has become a zombie. Maggie and Carol note that the woman had a gun and could’ve shot herself before dying and becoming a zombie. Carol says, “Some people can’t give up.”

So, the lady in the barn with a Bible didn’t give up hope like so many others they have encountered; is this what the writers of a secular, horror-based TV show were really trying to say? (Or am I over-thinking things as us English teachers are trained to do?)

walking_dead_maggie

Are We the Walking Dead or Not?

The overarching question of the episode appears to be: Will the characters lose hope and give up or continue on?

Later, Rick says something interesting; he says, “…we are the walking dead.” But Daryl vehemently refuses this idea. “We ain’t them. We are not them,” he says. Now, Rick explains what he means by this, but it appears they’re both thinking in different ways about the comment. (More thoughts about this in the next article.)

But it’s not long before the internal conflicts within the characters are played out: Daryl discovers walkers – a lot of them! – trying to stroll right into the barn. He slams the doors shut and pushes up against the door to hold them back. But our heroes don’t despair; they don’t huddle into balls and mourn, waiting for death. They, instead, rush to help Daryl brace the doors. United, they all push against the onslaught of the dead as lightning fills the sky. The symbolism is clear: They will continue to rage against the dying of the light. They will not join the dead.

The scene cuts to morning. The sun is bright. The rain has stopped. Our heroes are alive; most are sleeping. Maggie and Sasha exit the barn to find many walkers crushed by fallen trees or ripped apart by the storm. Is there a suggestion of divine protection here? After all, the first thing they saw as they entered the barn was a Bible. Was the storm, in fact, a blessing in disguise, which saved them from the coming zombie horde? Did a divine hand protect the barn?

Sasha says, “Look at this. Should’ve torn us apart.” Maggie replies, “It didn’t” – some dialogue with clear double-meaning.

 walkingdead_sasha

The Sun Always Rises

Maggie and Sasha proceed to watch the sunrise, a universal sign of hope. No matter how bad things are, the sun always rises. But why does it always rise? The sunrise not only reminds us of the beauty of God’s creation, but it also reminds us of God’s unchanging nature and divine care for his creation.

First, the writers of the Bible teach not only that God made all of creation, but that all know of him because of his creation:

 

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.

(Psalm 19:1–2)

 (Also see Romans 1:18-20, which we looked at in the previous Walking Dead GFTM article.)

Secondly, God preserves all of his creation:

 

You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Nehemiah 9:6)

 

God’s promise to sustain his creation and preserve life can be traced as far back to immediately after he destroyed much of life on Earth with the Flood:

 

…the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)

 

Theologian Wayne Grudem calls this God’s preservation, which is part of God’s providence over his creation. He explains it as “God keeps all created things existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them” with “active, purposeful control.” He writes, “God, in preserving all things he had made, also causes them to maintain the properties with which he created them,” and if God didn’t do this, then “all except the triune God would instantly cease to exist.” (Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994 P.316)

What makes Christians unique from other faiths is Christians also believe God has made himself known through his Son. Along with the Holy Spirit, this Son has existed with God eternally. In fact, this Son, who came in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, is God. Here, we have the unique Christian belief of the Trinitarian nature of God: three distinct, coequal, coeternal personal beings all sharing the one divine nature.

The New Testament teaches us all things were created through God the Son, and not only that, but all things are sustained through the Son and all life is preserved by him. In John 1, where John refers to the Son as “the Word,” we see the Trinitarian connection between the Father and Son, as well as the Son’s role in creation:

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

 

God, though separate from his creation, is intimately involved in sustaining and preserving it. This attribute of God the Father is shared by God the Son:

 

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)

 

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

 

Clearly, the Bible does not teach Deism; God didn’t create the universe, wind it up like an old watch, and now he just sits back and lets it tick. Even if we remove all instances recorded in both the Old and New Testaments of God breaking into history, such as during the Exodus or the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Bible still clearly teaches that God is not a “hands off” deity.

Further, because the creation accounts in Genesis shows God is a God of order, and because of the Christian belief of a God who sustains the order of the universe, Christianity gave rise to modern science. The Christian worldview accounts for the immaterial laws of nature and the constants of the universe. The worldview of pagan and pantheistic religions do not lend themselves to the ideas of modern science. In fact, neither does naturalism; a theory based on a premise of materialism and random chance doesn’t give us the idea of consistency in nature needed to do science. The concepts taught in the Bible do.

(I realize everything I just stated in the above paragraph is extremely controversial; this article, “Why Christianity is the Worldview that Best Supports Science,” gives a good overview of the argument or watch this 10-minute video of Dr. Greg Bahnsen that touches on some of it.)

No matter how bad things get – in real life or in a fictional TV show – we can be sure the sun will rise. We can be secure in our knowledge that God will sustain us.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
    from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised!

(Psalm 113:2-3)

Now, the questions are: Why aren’t things worse? And: Was Rick right – are we the walking dead? We’ll explore these questions NEXT

Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead:

The Walking Dead & Unrestrained Evil

The Walking Dead & God’s Innate Moral Law

WalkingDead_hershel

Does Christianity Have Pagan Roots? (Part 3) Easter Eggs & Christmas Trees Have Pagan Roots… Yeah, but so what…?

Early Christianity has no connection to paganism, but what about later traditions – like Easter eggs & bunnies & Christmas trees?  Aren’t they pagan?  Probably… but so what?

Christmas&Easter 

In the first two parts of this series, I argued:

(1)  The name “Easter” itself has no pagan origin.  (Read Part 1 here.)
and
(2)  There is no evidence that ancient pagan religions had any influence on early Christianity or modern Bible-based (Sola Scriptura! – “by Scripture alone”) Christianity (Read Part 2 here.) 

But there are always loose ends:  What about Easter eggs?  And rabbits?  What about Christmas trees?  Or Santa Claus or mistletoe?

Since the first two parts of this series were somewhat long, I want to give you a short answer for this third and final part…  followed, of course, by a long answer because I can’t seem to address any issue quickly…

 

THE SHORT ANSWER

QUESTION“May I ask what the chocolate and coloured eggs have to do with the death and resurrection of Christ?”  (This was asked in the comments section for Part 1 of this series.)

RESPONSE:  “… The answer to your questions is: absolutely nothing… whether bunnies and eggs have pagan roots doesn’t matter.  The practices are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible.  Thus, the practice is neutral.  It’s similar to how the music used in churches is essentially neutral as long as it glorifies God; it doesn’t matter if the music is contemporary or traditional.  So, if people want to have an egg hunt with their kids on Easter, there’s nothing wrong with that from a biblical standpoint.  On the other hand, if a Christian doesn’t feel comfortable with the practice/tradition (not doctrine) of egg hunts because it may have pagan roots and that person chooses to abstain from it, that is what they should do and it is perfectly acceptable as well.”

 

 THE LONG ANSWER

 Do eggs, bunnies, mistletoe, and decorated trees have pagan roots?  Probably.

Even Bruce Metzger – one of the most influential New Testament scholars of the 20th Century and highly respected by both evangelical scholars and liberal theological scholars – in his essay arguing against any pagan influence on early Christianity (Read it here), wrote that post-Constantine Christianity in the fourth and fifth Centuries, long after the New Testament had been written, did adopt some pagan-influenced practices.  (Yet the Protestant Reformation and Sola Scriptura did away with all of the practices he cites.)

But this is what happens when something – whether it be punk music or Christianity – goes “mainstream.”  The devout few grow into the nominal many.  The strict core remains, but they’re surrounded by the lax masses.  And somewhere along the way eggs, bunnies, mistletoe, and decorated trees joined in.

Do eggs, bunnies, mistletoe, and decorating trees have pagan roots?  Probably.

But… who cares?

To be honest, I didn’t even research this question because it doesn’t matter…

 

TRADITION VS. DOCTRINE

There is a difference between church doctrine based on biblical teachings and traditions from outside the Bible.  There is a difference between biblical practices and non-biblical practices, even if those non-biblical practices are practiced by Christians – even practiced by Christians at a church or during a holiday celebration.

At my church (and most churches), we pass out bulletins.  Did Jesus command us to do this?  No.  Do the writers of the Bible tell us to do this?  No.  Did the first Christian churches do this?  I doubt it.  Does this mean we have corrupted Christianity with a secular practice?  No.

Say I’m in a jazz band, but I really like that mohawk I saw on that guy in that punk rock band.  So, I grab an electric shaver and give myself a mohawk.  Does that mean my jazz band is now a punk rock band?

Mohawk_Rancid

 

CLAIMING IT FOR CHRIST

The God of the Bible is Truth and Creator of all things.  Even if something is connected to something sinful, it can be reclaimed for Christ.  For example, I know there are exceptions, but the majority of popular hiphop artists I’ve heard rap about embarrassingly shameful subjects – celebrating materialism, misogyny, ego, drug culture, violence.  But Christian hiphop artists like Shai Linne, Lecrae, and Andy Mineo have claimed rap for Christ, using their lyrics not to objectify women or glorify themselves, but for glorifying their Lord and Savior.  Likewise, we can claim anything for Christ and use it in honor of Him.

 

WHAT’S SYNCRETISM?

When speaking about religion, syncretism is the combining or uniting of religious beliefs.  For example, we see a combination of Catholic Christianity and tribal African religions (often called voodoo) in places like New Orleans.  This would be an example of syncretism completely unacceptable to a strictly Bible-believing Christian because certain practices of tribal African religions clearly contradict the teachings in the Bible (and, thus, Christian doctrine) in many ways (whether we’re speaking about Protestantism or Catholicism).

On the other hand, say you go to church on Easter Sunday to worship God and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and then you come home and hide colored eggs, which most likely are originally pagan symbols.  Is this syncretism — perhaps a “lighter” type?  Many strictly Bible-believing Christians find no problem with this tradition because it doesn’t defy nor contradict the teachings in the Bible.  No other deity is being worshipped in the act of an egg hunt.  No pagan rituals are being performed.  No sin is being committed.  Yes, colored eggs may have pagan origins, but the pagan significance has lost its meaning.

Easter_rabbint_eggs

Music is a good example to understand this idea.  Certain passages in the Bible definitely speak of worshipping God with music.  But does it state a specific style of music?  No.  If the music glorifies God and can be sung in unison as a congregation, few should find any issue from a biblical standpoint concerning the style of music in Christian churches.

Just as popular music styles change over time, the songs Christians were singing in honor of Christ in the 1st Century in Jerusalem or Rome were certainly a different style than the songs sung in American churches today.  (This is why it’s so baffling to me when Christians get hung up on traditions and get into battles over not having contemporary music in churches.)  The style of music used in church is tradition and preference, not biblical doctrine.  Thus, churches in Africa, Asia, Indonesia, and Northern Europe can worship God with music specific to their cultures.

Another illustration borrowed from one of my professors at SBTS, Dr. David Sills – professor of missions and anthropology, and author of Reaching and Teaching – will help:

In the New Testament, Jesus clearly teaches that those who repent and believe in the Gospel of Christ Jesus should be baptized – a symbolic, public declaration of their faith.  This is an example of a command from Jesus, and thus, a biblical doctrine.

Dr. Sills shared how the people of a certain tribe in Africa wore many necklaces and bracelets with all sorts of talismans — amulets, charms — hanging from them, according to their traditional religious beliefs.  Some of the natives, after accepting Christ, would cut off the necklaces and bracelets and throw them into a fire before being baptized.  As a new Christian, the necklaces, bracelets, talismans, and amulets would certainly have to be left behind because this would be syncretism that contradicts the teachings in the Bible.  But what about the part concerning casting them into the fire?

Was it acceptable for them, as Christians, to do this?  Of course.  There’s no biblical reason why they shouldn’t throw the talismans into the fire.  The act was a powerful statement of their belief in the one true God, but should they make it a requirement, an addition to the act of baptism?  No!  To add anything to or to take away anything from baptism as given by Christ would be against Scripture.  Can this act be made an optional tradition?  Sure!  Likewise, in many American churches, people often give their testimonies before being baptized.  Is this required by Scripture?  No.  Is this forbidden by Scripture?  No.  Can it be an optional tradition?  Sure.

Likewise, does a Christian have to hide eggs on Easter?  No.  Is it forbidden to hide eggs according to Scripture?  No.  Can I hide eggs if I want to?  Sure.  Can I decide to not hide eggs because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of it having pagan roots?  Yes, that’s okay too.

 

HALLOWEEN?

Let’s look at one more example: Halloween.  Now, many claim Halloween has pagan roots. I recently learned more about the origins of Halloween, and this doesn’t appear to be the case, but there’s no reason to go into all of that here. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say Halloween does have pagan roots.  Should Christians participate in Halloween?  That’s a question individual Christians have to make.  Two questions have to be honestly considered by all Christians, whether it concerns trick-or-treating or hiding eggs or decorating a tree:

(1)  What biblical teaching may I be violating?

and

(2)  Have the pagan “meanings” of Halloween been lost in our current culture to the extent that it no longer can be considered “pagan”?  (Similar to how Christmas has become a secular holiday for many, and the true reason for celebrating it has been lost – or ignored – in secular society.)

The possible ways of answering these questions can be seen in how different churches have responded:  Some churches (like the one I grew up in) had no problem with Halloween.  (We even did a haunted house in the church basement!)  Other churches carve pumpkins, hold (non-scary) costume contests, and pass out candy, but call it a “Fall Festival.”  Some churches ignore Halloween (or Fall Festivals) all together.  Likewise, some churches have decided to simply call Easter Resurrection Sunday because of the possible pagan origins of the name Easter (though I showed in Part 1 that this is most likely inaccurate).

 halloween

 

THE EXCEPTION: STUMBLING BLOCKS

What I’m writing about here is sometimes referred to as “Christian Freedom.”  Yes, there are clear commands and prohibitions in the Christian life, but there is also a considerable amount of freedom (despite the tendency of both misguided Christians and non-Christians throughout history to demean our faith to simply being about following legalistic rules).  For example, is there a way all Christians should dress?  No.  We have freedom to dress as we please.  Of course, there are Christian principles that should guide how we dress to an extent.  For example, women shouldn’t dress in ways that cause men to lust after them.

Another big exception to Christian Freedom is explored in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  In his letter (See 1 Corinthians, Chapters 8-10), Paul addresses a debate in the Corinth church about whether Christians should eat meat sacrificed to idols.  People would bring bulls and other animals to the pagan priests for sacrifice for one reason or another, and that sacrificed animal would more than likely end up being someone’s dinner.  As odd as this seems to us today, it was a common practice in the Roman world in the 1st Century, and it gives us an important biblical principle for today.

Paul explains that eating meat sacrificed to idols is harmless because, after all, what is an idol?  An idol is nothing but a statue.  There is no god behind it because there is only one God (8:4-6).  But then Paul goes on to explain that not all Christians are as insightful or mature in their understanding of these things, and if eating meat sacrificed to idols will cause them to struggle in their faith – such as causing an unclear unconscious – the more mature Christian should willfully abstain from such practice for the sake of his or her brother or sister in Christ (8:7-13).

Furthermore, Paul continues, if a non-Christian has you over for dinner and offers you meat, accept it graciously and don’t ask where it comes from.  But if the non-Christian tells you that the meat comes from a sacrificed animal, then don’t eat it – not for your own sake, but for the sake of the non-Christian (10:27-29).

This is the “stumbling block” concept (8:9).

zeus_statue

If your actions cause a brother or sister in Christ to “stumble,” than you are to show grace and patience – the same grace and patience God has shown you – and refrain from those practices.  Likewise, if your actions (though they may be allowed by Christian Freedom) somehow damage the perception of our faith by non-believers, we should refrain from them as well.

A good illustration concerns drinking alcohol.  The writers of the Bible tell us not to get drunk, but the drinking of alcohol is not prohibited.  Jesus, after all, turned water into wine (John 2), and Paul recommended to Timothy to drink some wine for his stomach problems (1 Timothy 5:23).  But if a friend of yours, who is not yet strong in the faith, feels strongly that Christians shouldn’t drink, it’s better not to have a beer with dinner when you invite him over.  This is even truer if you have a friend who has a drinking problem.  Have no doubt about it: To cause your brother or sister in Christ to stumble is a sin.

As Paul writes:

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful.  ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (10:23-24)

and

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10:31)

(To be clear, in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Paul further explains that though eating meat offered to idols is essentially harmless, a Christian shouldn’t participate in any rituals dedicated to idols or pagan gods.)

CONCLUSIONS

  • There is a big difference between doctrine and tradition.
  • If a tradition or practice doesn’t contradict or disobey biblical teachings, it’s fair game.
  • Conversely, if a tradition or practice becomes a “stumbling block” to others in their faith in Jesus Christ or in coming to faith in Jesus Christ (or even if it doesn’t sit well with your own conscience) it should be refrained from out of Christian love and grace.

Frankly, it may be worth ceasing the traditions of eggs, rabbits, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and even the use of the word “Easter” simply so Christians no longer have to address these weary matters.

Thoughts?  Share ’em below please!

Santa-Claus-The-Easter-Bunny

Do meaningless secular holidays have their origin in religious pagan myths?… Possible future article idea??

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