Recently, when the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose, public reaction ranged from disgust to sympathy.
One controversial church with over 17,000 followers on Twitter posted this comment: “Another one bites the dust. #Time2StopTeachingSinYet?”
A fellow actor tweeted: “‘Sad’ isn't the word I'd use to describe a 46-year-old man throwing his life away to drugs. ‘Senseless’ is more like it. ‘Stupid.’”
At the other end of the spectrum, another actor tweeted: “Dear Philip, a beautiful, beautiful soul. For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much. Bless your heart.”
As a Christ follower, what’s the appropriate reaction?
It does seem senseless and sad at the same time. A talented man with a wife and three young children dies with a needle in his arm. Tragic must be an appropriate adjective, and yet, it doesn’t require a stretch to see how someone might call addiction “stupid.” Hoffman had a beautiful family, a successful career, money, and he threw it all away for a drug he knew could only lead to his destruction.He made a choice. A bad one. A tragic one. A stupid one.
So, why should you care?
For me, this isn’t a theoretical question. Last time I shared that I have been involved with many people who are struggling with addiction of one kind or another. I believe it is right and appropriate that Christ followers should care for them. Here’s why:
1. The addict is a glorious human being.
Philip Hoffman, the drunk passed out in the alley, the CEO, and you and I all have one thing in common: We were created in the image of God. We were created to be beautiful and glorious – reflecting the nature of the One who made us.
Because of that, you, I and everyone you meet has value. Why? Created by God. Created in His image. To bring it down to our level; if I get some paint and smear it on a canvas, it has very little value to an art dealer but if Rembrandt does the same thing it would be worth millions. Why? Because of who created it.
And yet, the image of God in us is shrouded, broken, distorted, which brings us to the next point.
2. We’re all in the same boat.
Being found dead in your underwear in a hotel room with a needle sticking out of your arm is certainly a fall from glory. It is not a picture of what God created us to be. But Hoffman is not alone in his disgrace.
The Bible paints us all with the same brush when he wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Roman 3:23).
We cannot condemn Hoffman or any other addict without condemning ourselves. We may not have ever used illegal drugs. We may not struggle with any overt addiction, but by nature of being human, we have fallen short.
Or as my mom used to say… there but for the grace of God go you and me.
And, substance abuse is not the only addiction. As a society, we suffer from all sorts of addictions. We get into relationships or eat or have sex to escape those unwanted thoughts and feelings. We’re all doing things to make us feel better, to give us self-worth, things that take the place of God in our lives.
3. Pain generally underlies addiction.
You might be surprised to hear that the best recovery programs don’t focus on a person’s addiction. Wait! What? Why?
Because addiction isn’t the real problem.
The underlying causes – the pain the addiction was meant to cover up – must be addressed.
‘Steve’, someone I have worked with, said this was true for him. “The reason I did drugs in the first place was because I was trying to escape the unwanted feelings, thoughts and emotions.”
‘Ron’, concurred: “The problem is me – not the alcohol. My fear is one of the biggest driving forces – fear of failure, fear of not measuring up, fear of being exposed. I learned to deal with the fear.”
Addiction often starts as a means of feeling normal. The addict thinks if he drinks or shoots up, then he’s not gonna feel and he’s not gonna think…but the more you take, the bigger problem you’re creating.
4. Untreated addiction destroys lives and families.
Hurt people hurt people. Damaged people damage other people. Don’t imagine a circle. That would be too neat, too clean. Imagine something messier, like a wobbly, out-of-control spiral that circles in on itself again and again.
Drug addiction isn’t a victim-less crime. The user is only the first victim. Those closest to him are next, and the resulting pain can cut so deep that it permanently disfigures.
Many I have counseled suffer from the adverse effects of childhood trauma. Many of them have children whom they have drawn into that trauma, and so, the cycle of pain is perpetuated. Unless the cycle is broken. And I’ve seen it broken several times! Which leads to the next point…
5. The hopeless drug addict isn’t hopeless!
This may be the most critical point for Christ followers. No one is ever beyond God’s reach. Jesus himself promises: “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Without God’s grace, all of us would be without hope. In Ephesians 2, Paul writes that we were dead; Christ brought us back to life. “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
The miracle isn’t that an addict can be saved. The miracle is that any of us can be saved.
In fact, addicts, because they have come to the end of themselves, are often quicker to realize the futility of life without God.
I can’t tell you how many times I have sat with someone discussing whatever problem they were facing and have the thrill of watching God move in their lives and pain and set them free. What an incredible joy it is!