‘What sign do you give…that you are not a zombie?’

If you have young children, then odds are good you are very much aware that excitement over Halloween 2013 is building among the elementary-school crowd. Your experience of this is almost certainly different from mine, but at our house the anticipation has been building since the beginning of the school year, meaning “since late August.” No, I am not kidding.

But even though this annual tradition has been a regular topic of frenzied discussion at home and on multiple rides to and from school, I was nevertheless caught off-guard a few weeks ago when my young son was just about to go to sleep. Seconds from the onset of snoring, he snapped awake and rolled over to ask, “Dad, would you tell me if you were really a zombie?”

After issuing multiple convincing assurances that I was in fact not a zombie, followed by a brief silence, the second volley arrived: “But what if you really are a zombie, and you just don’t know it? Could that maybe have happened?” Mercifully, exhaustion finally set in – on both sides – and the two of us fell asleep having reached some sort of uneasy truce on this topic.

You Be the Judge: A headshot of me taken
about a month ago alongside a headshot of your
garden-variety zombie. (Hint: I’m on the left.)


Flash-forward several days to Sept. 24. While waiting in the family van for Mom to pick up a bag of the super-expensive, specially-formulated dog food that doesn’t upset our puppy’s tummy – No, I am not kidding – I make the mistake of checking back in on the topic, thinking that I would simply make sure that all remaining concerns have been adequately addressed in his mind: “So, son, are you still worried at all that your Dad might actually be a zombie?” (Pause.) “Well yes, but only just a little bit…not too much worried.” His confident demeanor suggested that I should be encouraged by the small amount of his remaining reservations.

As it turns out, it’s harder than you might imagine to convince a young boy that you are a living, breathing human being. The following “proofs” of my non-zombie existential state were all quietly refuted, none considered entirely adequate to satisfy the mind of a seven-year-old child:

  • I bleed red, oxygenated blood…not slimy gray-black ooze. You’ve actually seen my body bleed recently. And I have been giving blood every few months since 2001; surely the Red Cross would have noticed something by now, right?
  • I do not groan all the time. I can speak real English words and complete sentences.
  • My complexion is not pallid gray, nor are my eye sockets horribly blackened. There normally is not a lot of blood running down my chin onto my shirt.
  • I can walk with a normal, non-zombie-like stride. I can even run! (Well…short distances, anyway.)
  • I’ve never once knowingly eaten human brains. And I don’t want to!
  • I hold down a job like everyone else. I even pay taxes.
  • I have sired children, including you, the one questioning my humanness.
  • None of my close friends has (thus far) turned me in to the authorities for exhibiting zombie-like behavior.

While acknowledging that these were pretty good arguments, none of them really “sealed the deal.”

What’s really interesting about all of this is that my son’s concerns that I might be a zombie could be traced back to the Saturday afternoon when my wife and I were staining the fence in our backyard. We had invited one of his friends to come over to our house to spend the day together so that the two of them could have fun playing while we worked. It turns out that, upon observing my nasty old tee-shirt and jeans covered with blotches of dirt and cedar stain, the young friend had pronounced judgment upon me: “Only zombies dress like that.” In simple terms, my son now worried that I might be a zombie simply because he had thoughtlessly assigned his friend the position of Zombie Expert in Residence.

Every time I read through the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus, I pause here and there to consider which “experts” are (or are not) being true to Scripture (Acts 17:10-12). I also pay attention to the larger context in which the more forceful challenges to Jesus were issued. In many cases, Jesus or His disciples would perform some sort of inexplicable miracle, only to turn around and be grilled on some nit-picky portion of Jewish law or (more often) man-made customs (Matthew 23:23-24). Jesus feeds thousands of people using only a little boy’s lunch…the Pharisees demand to see some sort of “miraculous sign” to validate the ministry of Jesus and His “blasphemous” claim to be the Son of God (Matthew 12:22-31, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 19:47-48, John 18:19-23).

It’s at points such as these that I often wonder which remarks did not get included in the inspired texts of the Bible. For example, I can easily imagine impetuous Peter jumping into the conversation with a witty riposte such as, “Hey, are your priestly garments all wrapped a bit too tight? Did you guys entirely miss that whole feeding-a-zillion-people thing Jesus just did? That sure seemed like a ‘sign’ to me, right? Check out the extra baskets of food we collected!” Regardless of whatever additional comments may or may not have been made, it’s clear that the chief priests and scribes had already allowed their worldly comfort and positions of influence to determine in advance what their response to Jesus would be.

One day soon, I hope to convince my son that his father is not secretly a zombie. (Or at least help him to be a bit more discriminating in deciding who the experts are in the fields of zombie identification and containment.) Whether that ever happens or not is actually of far less importance to me than what he ultimately decides to do with the Person and work of Jesus, and (significantly) how he goes about deciding which sources he can trust to be both truthful and loving (Ephesians 4:14-16). When I finally came to faith in my late 30’s and began reading the Bible cover-to-cover, I was routinely surprised to find that I held beliefs about God that were about as credible as something whispered to me in the lunch room by one of my little school chums.

How can any of us ever hope to refute lies and errors about God – some of them deadly – unless and until we actually invest ourselves in His Word?

Matthew 12:38-42 (ESV)
“The Sign of Jonah”
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”

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