This is the one where the team is stuck inside the department store (a nod to Dawn of the Dead, I think) and are forced to be creative in order to escape. It’s gross. It kinda upset me when I first watched it. Then it kinda upset me that it didn’t upset me when I re-watched it two years later.
So you know the story.
The team is saved by covering themselves in the blood of a dead stranger.
The parallel I’m … revealing is offensive. Wayne Dunlap had become a gory mess, whose meat was repulsive even to walkers. To elevate that situation to compare it to the King of the universe sacrificing Himself for us is extremely offensive. My fingers are actually cringing typing it. But I can’t not say it. Neither can I come up with any way in which it’s wrong. Sure it’s offensive. But is it incorrect?
Why does it feel so wrong?
For one thing, violence is ugly. People are rightly dismayed by faked violence on TV or in the movies. For another, comparing the grotesque to the holy is dancing through a minefield. When telling the story of the Jews conquering the land, how nasty should we get? God’s people were committing acts that we are rightly horrified by. But we can’t just drop it because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We have to read through the whole bloody mess. And then we have to wrestle with the idea that God was ordering these events.
I am upset by violence in the Bible, sure. But it didn’t take me long to come to two logical conclusions: 1. It’s God’s universe and He can do what He wants; 2. If God is to blame only for the deaths of people like Philistines and residents of Jericho, then who exactly is in charge of the universe when everybody else dies? That is, every human dies while God is in charge, so isn’t He more or less responsible for ALL deaths, not just the ones He directly commanded in the Old Testament?
With those two conclusions, I am able to get beyond the whole argument about fairness and goodness. Goodness is defined by God. When He kills, it’s good for Him to kill. It doesn’t mean that all killing is good. It just means that when He does it, we have no possible argument to say He was wrong to do it. That kind of philosophy is hard for Westerners, I think. But authority is authority. If the author of the universe and all life chooses to end certain lives, it really just is up to Him, whether we approve or not.
So beyond the fairness and goodness questions, I’m reading the violence in the Bible. And the violence is still hard to read. Though justified, I don’t want to read about it. Some of the most gruesome descriptions of violence in the Bible are among the instructions for killing and preparing animals for sacrifice. Lotsa blood. (And for a peacenik vegetarian, lemme tell ya…) But it’s necessary to the big story of Scripture. Without an understanding of the gruesomeness of the sacrificial system, and without an understanding of God’s furious and jealous love for His people, the crucifixion of Christ rings a bit hollow.
We read the Old Testament, including all the icky bits, and the story of Christ makes sense. He loves us and He hates sin. To bring about a perfect kingdom, the evil parts need to be removed. That’s why He killed the Philistines, and that’s why He ultimately allowed Himself to be killed. That’s why He had to die in our place…we should have been killed, because His perfect kingdom would lose its adjective the second we walked in. Without the backstory of God’s furious protection of His nation, the need for imperfect people to die might seem overly reactionary or something. But we can see that He wants a perfect kingdom and He wants us imperfect people to join Him there. So we can’t join in if we’re dead, so He died for us.
We also learn a lot about the nature of that sacrificial death when we read the Old Testament. It is so easy to just say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” What we mean is, “I’m here talking to God because I’m one of the people that Jesus got murdered for. Amen.” I don’t want to concentrate on the bloody nature of His death every night, right before bedtime or right before dinner. So I utter that euphemism, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.” But Jesus’ death did not occur in a vacuum. No, He prepared the world for His entrance. God didn’t just decide, “Well the calendar is about to start over, I should send Myself down there to save My people.” He proved that sacrifice was necessary to regain access to Him. From the first moments after our first parents sinned, God killed an animal to cover their nakedness. Something has to die. Many people speculate that the reason that Abel’s sacrifice pleased God was because he offered an animal. His brother offered crops, which were not accepted. The jealousy ignited by this rejection led to Cain murdering Abel. But the point that many make is that God accepted the offering of the dead animal, not the crops.
The Old Testament further elaborates on the sacrificial system. It’s so complicated and important that books are spent explaining it. The book of Exodus starts explaining the rules of sacrifice. The book of Leviticus digs in deeper. The book of Numbers offers a little more information about it. And then, it’s so important to remember God’s Law, His work getting the people of Israel out of Egypt, and His system for sacrifice that the book of Deuteronomy (2nd Law) was then written.
And the rules are gruesome. How to cut, where to cut, how to let the blood flow. And every one of those rules is there so the people would understand that God was not kidding about this. Sin is serious. Sinners are deserving of death. And these animals had to die.
It was a bloody, messy, stinky task to kill and mutilate the bodies of the animals. The priests would do this, according to the instructions in the Torah, to honor the covenant that Yahweh made between Himself and Himself, which named Abraham and his forthcoming nation as the benefactors.
But we don’t sacrifice anymore. Because Jesus died. Jesus allowed His body to be broken, like an animal’s. Jesus allowed His blood to be shed, like a sacrificial bull. This was not some refined Sunday morning sip of sanitized grape juice and bite of a stale little cracker. Just grab one hair from your beard and pluck it out. Hurts? He had his whole beard plucked off of His face. You’ve seen The Passion of the Christ, you know how awful it was. I had to watch that movie in two segments, I was so upset by it. My cowardly little self couldn’t handle even watching a fake re-creation of the event THAT I CAUSED.
To get out of the building, the Walking Dead team tear apart the flesh of a dead man and wear it around their necks. It is disgusting. It is unnerving. It is indecent. But it is just a picture of what Jesus Christ did for us.