Jesus, Zombies, and Love: A Theological Reflection on Warm Bodies (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a three-part theological reflection on Warm Bodies. In part 1, I explored what Christian theology and the movie have to say about being “fully alive.” In part 2, I discussed what the movie and Christian theology have to say about being “fully human.” In this post, I’ll comment on what both Christian theology and Warm Bodies have to say about relating to the “other.”

Zombie movies rarely challenge us to think about how we treat those who are different from us. Instead, there is never a question of who are the “good guys” and who are the undead “bad guys.” The bad guys look hideous. The bad guys attack without provocation. The bad guys are mindless killing machines. At least, that’s how they’re typically portrayed. But not in Warm Bodies!

Instead of painting all zombies with one brush, Warm Bodies introduces a progression in the zombification process. Zombies deteriorate into a less and less human state until there is no humanity left. The other zombies call these completely zombified zombies “Boneys” because they have torn off their own flesh and only their blackened skeleton remains. When the main zombie character “R” introduces them, he says, “[The boneys] eat anything with a heart beat. I mean, so will I, but at least I’m conflicted about it.” The implication is that the final state of zombification entails the complete loss of empathy, feeling, humanity.

So, if zombies can progressively become more zombie-like, can they become less zombie-like too? That is the question this new information raises. And if the characteristic feature of complete zombification is being utterly devoid of feeling, what then would be the characteristic feature of a zombie who is becoming more human?

The Zombifying Affect of Sin

I think this is an apt metaphor for the human condition. Our “humanness” is diminished insofar as we eschew the suffering of others—simply look out for ourselves—losing more and more empathy for others. In Christian theology, sin has this effect on human nature. After sin entered human experience, but before the first murder is committed, God warns Cain that sin is “crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4.7) This sin that God speaks of is the sin of violence that Cain is tempted to commit against his brother Abel because he is jealous of him and angry. This sin that God warns Cain about wants to “have” him, it wants to own him. But God tells Cain he can “rule over it.”

Sin wants to own us! Sin wants to dehumanize us!

In the New Testament, James also discusses the way sin seeks to dehumanize us. He writes to the Church:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4.1-3)

The effect of sin over time is to render a person immune to the pain of others, entirely self-absorbed. Sin is deceitful and it plays to our vanity. It tells us that we are the most important person we know. It tells us that our needs are paramount to everyone else’s. Sin hardens our hearts to concern for others, to empathy. Paul uses a metaphor for this condition: He says that some false teachers who had infiltrated the early church had “consciences [that] have been seared as with a hot iron.” (I Tim. 4.2)

“Hardness” of heart is a very common metaphor for a dehumanized condition. This is the metaphor Scripture uses to describe people who disobey God, rebel against God, and break covenant with God. (Ex. 8.15, 32, 9.35; I Sam. 6.6; II Chron. 36.13; Prov. 28.14; Dan. 5.20; Zech. 7.12; Mt. 13.15, 19.8, Mark 8.17, 10.5; Eph. 4.18; Heb. 3.8, 3.15, 4.17) This closed off heart condition is also compared to rocky soil by Jesus. He uses the analogy of the human heart being like soil that receives a seed. Some soil is better suited to receive a seed. It has been tilled, fertilized, etc. Other soil is hard like clay and the seed meets a hostile environment. The seed, Jesus says, is the Word of God. And Jesus warns that if our hearts are hardened to God’s Word like rocky or clay-like soil, the Word will not grow and bear fruit in our lives.

The Restorative Affect of Self-giving Love

But the Good News is that Love cures hard-heartedness and rocky-soilness! Yes, humanity has been “dead” in our sins, and our hearts have been hardened toward God. Our hearts were a hostile environment for God’s Word, but in Jesus’s life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension we can see most clearly the Love of God for us and our hearts are melting like butter. In Jesus, we see the One who owned the whole world and is the earth’s rightful Ruler, become a servant, suffer, and die—On a Cross no less!—to demonstrate God’s love for us. (Rom. 5.8; Phil. 2.1-15) And Jesus’s disciple continue to demonstrate God’s love the same way! (John 13.34, 15.9, 12; I Jn. 3.16)

In Warm Bodies, R is moved by love to rescue Julie from the attacks of other zombies and hides her in his own zombie apartment. At first Julie doesn’t know what to make of these selfless acts. She is worried they are some sort of trick. But as R shows that he is serious about laying down his life for her, she opens her heart to him. This, in turn, causes R’s heart to start beating again. At the same time this is happening, the other zombies, starting with R’s “best friend,” also begin to realize that opening their hearts to love has a de-zombifying affect on them. R’s best friend stares at a poster of a couple holding hands. For the first time in a long time, he remembers flashes of his life before becoming a zombie. He loved someone! He asks another zombie, “Do you feel that?”

Who is the “Other”?

But there’s still a problem: on the outside, the zombies who are becoming more human still look like zombies. And their appearance has been stigmatized by the non-zombie authorities. “Corpses don’t feel. They don’t think. They don’t bleed.” This ‘othering’ of zombies has built a metaphorical wall between the two groups that is matched only by the massive, imposing, physical wall that the remnant of non-zombie people have erected to keep the zombies out.

In the first half of the first century (before 70 AD/CE), the massive, beautiful Temple stood in the center of Jerusalem—the very place where heaven and earth overlapped. Inside the gates of the Temple there were several walls that separated various parts of the Temple from certain groups. Posted inside the “outer court,” or the “Court of the Gentiles” was a sign which read:


The metaphorical “dividing wall” between Jews (God’s people) and “Gentiles” (everyone else) was just as closely guarded. God had called the children of Abraham to “bless all the nations of the world.” But Israel had closed in on herself and become hardened to her neighbor’s needs. When Jesus “cleanses” the Temple in Mark 11.17, he quotes the prophet Isaiah (56.7) “My house will be house of prayer for all nations.” That “all nations” part is the same word as “Gentiles.” But by the time Jesus comes on the scene, Gentiles are reviled by Jews and vice versa. You might imagine Jews saying the same thing about Gentiles that the non-zombie militia leader says about zombies. “[Gentiles] don’t feel. They don’t think. They don’t bleed.” Likewise, Gentiles would say the same thing about Jews: “[Jews] don’t feel. They don’t think. They don’t bleed.”

If one group of people can convince themselves another group of people are non-human, they can justify their slaughter.

How Are We to Relate to the “Other”?

Paul’s familiarity with the grave warnings against Gentiles entering the inner court of the Temple make his remarks to the Ephesians all the more revealing and powerful:

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (2.11-22)

Paul says many profound things here using metaphors. Let’s unpack them one at a time. First, Paul says that the Gentiles separation from God was analogous to them not having “citizenship” in Israel. They don’t have the rights that a citizen would have; they don’t share in the heritage or sense of national identity. But, now, in Christ, they have been brought in. They too now share in this “citizenship.” Second, Paul uses the metaphor of the “dividing wall” that was also physically represented in the Temple by literal walls. Paul says that in Jesus self-giving love demonstrated on the Cross, he has destroyed the “wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles. The picture here is of a physical wall being destroyed (think: Wrecking ball, meet wall!) Third, Paul says that in Jesus’s Cross, he has made a “new humanity” or a new way of being human. This is actually critical! Jesus’s self-giving love is an entirely new way of being human—a Way that points to the self-giving love that God is. In Jesus, we can participate in the very life of God by participating in God’s self-giving love! Finally, Paul paints the picture of God building a new Temple. Only this time, instead of physical bricks, God is using both Jews and Gentiles to form a community in which God dwells by his Spirit. Like the Presence that dwelt in the Temple, God dwells among God’s people—both Jew and Gentile, united in peace—by God’s Spirit. The trinitarian, saving action of God is exemplified in verse 18: “For through [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the “other” is no longer our enemy, but is instead our brother and our sister. They are no longer “foreigners” but are now “fellow citizens”. They are no longer sub-human or non-human, but instead, together with us, are being made into a new humanity. They are no longer separated by a “wall of hostility”. Instead, they are welcomed into the new Temple community God is building and where he will dwell.

The ending of Warm Bodies perfectly illustrates what this new community looks like. Zombies and non-zombies co-existing, learning how to be a new kind of human. The wall around the last remaining city is torn down and R and Jules live happily ever after.

Who is the “other” you’ve been taught to think of as sub-human or non-human? Who is the “other” who you’ve been stigmatized by authorities and who have been separated by a wall of hostility?

What would it mean to show that “other” the self-giving love of Christ?


  1. Joseph M. Holden, The Popular Handbook of Archaeology and the Bible