Sunday, 9 February 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman and the urgency of the gospel

The sad news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death hit the media on Sunday. The multiple award-winning actor and director died of a drug overdose at his New York home – a tremendous loss to his friends and family, a huge blow to the acting world and to fans of his unique and skillful performances.

Tragically, Hoffman is not the first star to hit our headlines in this way. Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, to name but a few, had similarly untimely deaths.

Of course it isn't just the rich and famous who are riddled with such heartbreaking pain – how many others unknown to the public eye have died of similar causes, either accidental or intentional?

Back in 2012, Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, spoke movingly about Amy Winehouse's death in Woman Alive: "I found it absolutely tragic when Amy Winehouse died – it made me weep – because it represents thousands of other young people who have so much pain and can't process it other than with drugs or alcohol, or promiscuity that ultimately is going to be prettymeaningless. So I think there's an urgency about the message."

Pain and hopelessness permeate our world and show no partiality, affecting people regardless of age, location or economic status. But in the midst of this hopelessness, we know that as Christians, we can have hope.

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: "Jesus wept." His friend died and Jesus's response is exactly what ours would have been. He wept. But he didn't just weep; the literal translation of the Greek word used here means 'to snort like a horse'. Not only was Jesus upset, he was also angry. Jesus was raging that this wasn't right – it wasn't how the world should be. And if this world is not as God intended it to be, it is certainly not how He intends to leave it.

One day, He will return and put an end to all our pain. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever"(Revelation 21:4). Or as Tolkein puts it in The Lord Of The Rings: "Everything sad will be made untrue."

While we are in no way immune to suffering, as Christians we know that we are not alone in our grief. We have a God who chose to give up His divine privileges in order to share in our suffering (Philippians 2) and redeem it. While we may not always have answers, we have a loving God who draws alongside us and holds us in our grief and breathes hope into our hopelessness.

As Nicky points out, there is an urgency about our message. People need to know that there is a far greater remedy than the bottle or pill, that they have not been forgotten, that their names have been written on the palms of God's hands (Isaiah 49:14-16).

Ruth Jackson is media officer for RZIM and the OCCA

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