How would you view God if the world as you knew it ended? Have you been there? AMC's popular show The Walking Dead introduces a group of characters wrestling with the Almighty in a world overrun by the living dead. Even if zombies aren't your thing, the angles of personal faith in the show are compelling.
In this apocalyptic world, survival is a daily struggle, meaning and purpose are more obscure than ever, and questions about God are magnified. The religious and existential aspect of The Walking Dead jumps out from the first episode of season two (What Lies Ahead) with main character Rick Grimes explaining that he's "trying hard not to lose faith."
A short while later the group follows the sound of church bells in the distance. Protestants and Catholics alike have commented on this unique house of worship that features a Southern Baptist marquee on the outside and a giant crucifix at the altar inside. Sure it's not theologically consistent but makes for good TV when three characters step up to ask the statue of Jesus on a cross a series of questions.
Daryl Dixon and a Useless God
"Hey JC, you takin' requests?"
Daryl's not interested in a Savior. Later, he barks that all the hoping and praying of everyone is a waste of time. Daryl simply has no use for God.
Carol Peletier and a Vengeful God
Carol's daughter Sophia is missing, and she fears that this punishment came as a result of praying for the death of her abusive husband.
"Father forgive me. I don't deserve your mercy," she begs, "Please don't let this be my punishment. Let her be safe, alive and safe. Please Lord. Punish me however you want but show mercy on her."
The fact that her God is capable of mercy makes him vengeful or wrathful rather than simply cruel or evil.
Many of us can relate to such a plea. It's difficult to not play cause and effect with God. Do good, get good and vice versa we think. But such thinking constructs an inconsistent God doesn't it? One who certainly holds the world much more loosely than an all-loving God who planned and prepared for everything.
Rick Grimes and a Mysterious God
The rest of the group sees the search for Carol's daughter as a pointless risk, but Rick wants to hold the group together and tells his friend Shane they need to find her. "It'll be the miracle we need. We can't give up."
In a private moment, Rick approaches the statue Jesus with a powerful prayer.
"I don't know if you're looking at me with what? Sadness? Scorn? Pity? Love? Maybe just indifference. I guess you already know I'm not much of a believer. I guess I just chose to put my faith elsewhere. My family mostly…
I could use a little something to help keep us going. Some kind of acknowledgment, some kind of indication I'm doing the right thing. You don't know how hard that is to know. Well maybe you do. Hey look I don't need all the answers. Just a little nudge a SIGN. Any sign'll do."
Rick wants to believe, needs to even. Shane asks if he got what he needed from his private moment. "Guess I'll find out," Rick says.
He sees a mysterious God, but in time his inability to understand this distant deity results in a darker outlook. Bitterness eventually takes root. "I try not to mix it up with the Almighty anymore. Best we stay out of each other’s way."
Glenn Rhee and an Unknown God
Glenn is one of my favorite characters. During a particularly trying time he decides to give prayer a try for the first time. Like the ancient Athenians who Paul encountered at the Areopagus, Glenn has saved room for the unknown God.
As he sits on a porch in the night and approaches heaven for the first time a woman named Maggie interrupts.
When she apologizes Glenn replies that, "God probably got the gist."
A few moments later he asks the BIG question. "Do you think God exists?"
That query leads us to…
Maggie Greene and The God That Failed
Maggie grew up in a strict religious home (we're not even getting into the faith struggles of her dad Hershel here). By the time Glenn asks her about God, she's well into her own crisis of doubt.
"I always took it on faith," she says. "Lately I've wondered. Everything that happened, there must've been a lot of praying going on and seems quite a few went unanswered."
Maggie introduces the problem of evil and pain in her own way. At this point her beliefs remind me of a Metallica song called The God That Failed.
Like many skeptics, Maggie has turned from God but doesn't yet know what to turn toward. As a result her advice doesn't seem very helpful.
"Feel free to believe in God. But the thing is, you gotta make it okay somehow. No matter what happens."
A short time later Maggie is mourning the loss of yet another family member. The pain is just as real whether you accept God, blame God, or decide there is no God.
Us and the God Who Is
This short breakdown only features a sampling of the existential fun in The Walking Dead, but you could have a great discussion by working with this kind of template to ask people which of these "Gods" is real to them.
Of course these fictional characters say much about their creators, but we can use the hellish world they've constructed to consider our Creator and hopefully see the God who is and not the One we create.