I feel grieved over the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in a way that I have not felt over the death of other stars in recent years. The 46-year-old actor par excellence was found dead in his Manhattan apartment with a needle in his arm on February 2, 2014. He had apparently died of a drug overdose.
|Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014|
Why does this bother me so much more than the equally untimely death of his fellow actor, Paul Walker, who died at the age of 40 only a couple of months before? I've meditated on this and come to the conclusion that my feelings are multifaceted; therefore, isolating any one factor as the cause is reductionist. That said, analyzing the many reasons for my grief has led me to a deeper understanding of God's common grace to humankind.
What are the different reasons for my reaction? For one Hoffman appears to have died in desperate slavery to addiction, which he thought he had previously mastered. Rather than judging him, I wish I could have been there in his last desperate moments to try to show him love and compassion that might turn his heart from slavery to liberty. Additionally, he was young. The closer to I come to my forties, the younger I realize it is. He was a father to three young children, whom he shared with his girlfriend. The mere thought of leaving my children fatherless rends my soul. My heart breaks for all of these reasons; however, there is another factor, which deserves some biblical reflection--he was an actor of the highest quality. I don't mean to disparage the career of Paul Walker, but, for all Walker's success, his skill as an artist in the realm of acting was easily overshadowed by that of Hoffman. I'm neither a critic nor an actor, but, in my mind, there is no comparison between the two. It is the difference between my theological writing and John Calvin's.
All other things being equal (and they probably are not in this case), why should the acting ability of the deceased have any effect on how I respond to their deaths? Herein lies the theological reflection. This is not about the sins of two men, nor is it about whether they knew Jesus as Lord and Savior. I can't answer those questions and do not care to try. It is about God's grace.
Christian theologians differentiate between two types of grace. The first is God's saving grace, by which God justifies the sinner who places his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. It is this grace that saves the wretched sinner from the wrath of God that he deserves. When the preacher says, "We are saved by grace alone," this is what what means. Sola Gratia. This salvific grace, also called particular grace, applies only to those who come to Jesus in faith. (Ephesians 2:5,8)
The second kind of grace is common grace. It is "common" in that it is God's favor shown to all human beings, despite the fact that no one deserves God's kindness. (Ps. 145:9; Matt. 5:45) This is not the kind of grace that leads to salvation, nor is it relegated to the faithful. It is for everyone. Common grace means that God shows kindness to everyone, whether they know Jesus or not. What is this kindness that he shows indiscriminately to humankind? He has given humanity innovation, technology, medication, friendship, families, wealth, and He has restrained the worst of human evil. He has withheld his righteous anger toward fallen humanity in an act of cosmic patience. In addition to all of this, he has given us the arts--poetry, painting, drawing, printing, acting, singing, dancing, etc... God bestowed upon man the concept and ability of self-expression in aesthetically pleasing ways to bring joy to the soul.
God bestowed this upon Philip Seymour Hoffman to an unusual degree. Losing Hoffman to an ugly addiction and even uglier death is the robbery of humankind. The same sin that stripped joy from the Garden of Eden has stripped the twenty-first century of a great actor. It is no wonder that God hates sin. It wrecks his created beauty.
The snuffing out of God's grace, which was bestowed to us through Hoffman's gift, drives me to the hope and expectation of the endless age we will spend in the New Heavens and the New Earth. It will be a sacred and unending age in which God's gracious gifts of joy-inducing creativity will not be destroyed by cancerous sin. Death will not win.
I pray for grace and peace upon Hoffman's family.