The title of Wired magazine’s June 6, 2013 online article is “BBC’s In the Flesh Is the Thinking Person’s Walking Dead.” In the Flesh is a post-apocalyptic story of life after a zombie outbreak in Ireland. Only in this zombie series, becoming “undead” is not necessarily a death sentence.
A group of scientist developed a combination of drugs and institutionalized therapy that somehow re-wires the brain of “Partially Deceased Syndrome” sufferers (PDS being a more socially “acceptable” label than zombies is!) to partially restore their humanity in order to reintegrate them back into society.
As you can already tell, there are significant differences between the way In the Flesh and The Walking Dead handle the zombie genre. Wired magazine describes it as “a zombie story with brains” intact (yes, I added the word intact as a pun because I’m funny like that).
My purpose for this blog post about the undead is not to provide a review of In the Flesh; rather, it’s to comment on In the Flesh‘s attempt to portray a society that has attempted to revive humanity even after it’s dead.
As I watched this 3-part mini-series, I couldn’t help thinking that In the Flesh was actually a show about embodied life-after-death on earth (as opposed to disembodied life-after-death in heaven before the dead in Christ are resurrected - see 2 Cor. 5:8).
This theme of “embodied life-after-death on earth” confronted me head-on in a conversation between two PDS sufferers who had been ”resurrected” and reintegrated back into society. While enjoying “life” together on a swing ride at an amusement park, Amy (pictured on the left) began waxing philosophically to her friend Kieren (pictured on the far right).
Amy thoughtfully asks Kieren, “What is every living person afraid of?”
“Us?” Kieren answered.
“Death! The big sleep,” Amy quickly retorts. “Deep down fear in the Reaper is the reason everyone’s so messed up in the head. They know the end is nigh but there’s nothing they can do about it. So it drives them nuts and they live their lives with one eye on the clock. We don’t have to do that. We can smash the clock to pieces. That is an incredible blessing. God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, for when they shall rise from the dead, they are as angels in heaven.”
Although In the Flesh wrestles with a number of philosophical questions, the question of what embodied life-after-death on earth will be like is the one that stuck with me: “When Christians are resurrected to life on the new earth, will our embodied existence be better or worse than it is now?”
Life on earth in In the Flesh is still fraught with intense estrangement and conflict, especially for those who have experienced “resurrection.” Shortly after Amy declares that being resurrected “is an incredible blessing” for Kieren and her, they learn that it’s much more of a curse than a blessing.
I remember thinking to myself when their new found “life” on earth quickly went from kind-of-fun at the amusement park to worse-than-it-was-before-they-became-zombies, “As soon as we remove Jesus from our hope for resurrection, In the Flesh‘s embodied life-after-death on earth is really the best we can hope for. Yikes!”
For various reasons, I thoroughly enjoyed BBC’s thought-provoking series In the Flesh. But the reason I most enjoyed watching In the Flesh is it provided me the opportunity to meditate on the resurrection of Jesus in a way I don’t think I had before. I hadn’t been meditating long before I remembered a relevant section I had written for Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father:
“By being ‘born of a woman’ (Galatians 4:4), the Son of God journeyed into the far country that he might heal us of our estrangement and conflict with God from within his own Person. As soon as Jesus was conceived by the Spirit in the virgin womb of Mary, the healing and sanctifying of our humanity began. When Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25), he was not merely referring to what he was about to do with Lazarus in the tomb, nor to what he would ultimately do in the last day, but to the entirety of his incarnate life. Jesus was the Resurrection and the Life from the moment he was conceived in the virgin womb all the way to his resurrection from the dead and forever beyond. It was from that very moment that he began to heal and sanctify our humanity—to progressively bring his resurrection life to bear upon all our inability, estrangement and disobedience—from the inside out” (Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father, 44).
Without Jesus, the best we can hope for is the kind of “resurrection” we find in BBC series’ In the Flesh. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll stick with the Jesus of the Gospel, who was resurrected in the flesh for me and who will one day “transform [my] lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Yes, I want to be resurrected in the flesh one day, just so it’s in the same way Jesus was. Fortunately, because of who Jesus is for me, the anchor of my “want to” is the incomparable weightiness of Gospel Hope.
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