Facing ourselves

I and I,
One says to the other,
No man sees my face and lives.
– Bob Dylan

When I heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died from an apparent overdose of heroine, my initial thoughts were about how an obviously intelligent man could do something so stupid. Then I read an article in New York magazine by David Edelstein, a journalist who had studied his work and interviewed him shortly after his brilliant role as Truman Capote in Capote, for which he won an Oscar, and I began to understand. Edelstein points out that “the only Hoffman characters at ease with themselves are the bad ones.” Hoffman learned to play the dark side of humanity – especially nuances of the dark side trying to cover itself up as illustrated in Doubt where he plays a conflicted priest who doesn’t believe he’s a sexual predator.

“I think deep down inside, people understand how flawed they are,” Hoffman said in the interview. “I think the more benign you make somebody, the less truthful it is.”

In this statement, Hoffman may have hit on what makes Christians seem so phony or at least gives us a reputation of being so. The more we go around as flawed people trying to be more benign, the more untruthful we will appear to others. The truth is we are all as deeply flawed as anyone else; we just don’t want to know that.

I often wonder if in this regard we misuse the new life doctrines of being dead to sin and alive to Christ as a coverup instead of a means of facing ourselves. A person who preaches they are dead to sin and alive to Christ without ever facing the sin they are dead to is someone who doesn’t fully know what they are talking about.

The blessed thing is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus who said he was the first fruits of those who believe (in other words, the first one to make it through this terror and come out whole on the other side), we find the means to face ourselves and not despair. There is a way out of our sinful selves, but that doesn’t mean we can avoid our sinful selves. Some people think that Romans 7, where Paul struggles with two natures, happens only once for the believer. I think it happens all the time. I believe in some form we have this struggle every day – the difference being, we always have a way out.

Lots of Christian doctrine can be used to avoid ourselves when, in fact, it was created by God to be a means of facing ourselves and not ending up like Philip Seymour Hoffman. These truths are a means of facing our darkest secrets and coming out with hope and new life, not a means of never having to face ourselves at all.

“I suspect Philip Seymour Hoffman had a lot of shame in his life and dealt with it by going deeper than any actor of his generation in finding its source,” Edelstein wrote. That is something you don’t want to do without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring you through.

Many of us who do have access to that hope have yet to put it to use.

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12 Responses to Facing ourselves

  1. Rebecca W says:

    Shame owns you. Keeping it buried is deadly.

  2. Deana says:

    Dear John – I have noticed that reading some of your posts touches me deeply and really makes my mind start working and this latest one hits me the hardest of all. I’m not sure if everyting I have typed here will make any sense but then that’s par for the course. I AM deeply flawed and I DON’T want anyone, including myself. to know it; however I’m pretty sure they can see it all over me. I know I run into my flaws many times every day. I’m really fooling no one, but I convince myself that by not admitting it out loud it isn’t really as bad as it is. I go to great lengths to hide my sins and my shame. What I consistently forget about is God’s grace and the hope it offers me. I go in the negative direction first. I sit in church and hear the pastor talking about grace being available to me and I feel a yearning for it, but my shame keeps me from reaching for His hand. I am not sure how to claim that grace for myself without losing my hold on the few things I think I can control, but I really am no better and no less of a sinner than the biggest ragamuffin out there. I don’t think I act “holier than thou” or verbalize that I’m better than anyone else, but I work like heck to hide my problems and I let very few people in to see just how flawed I am. Why don’t I take the hand of hope and love and acceptance that is offered me by the Savior?

    • jwfisch says:

      Whatever you’re afraid to let go of … let it go. Time to lose it in the awesome grace and mercy of God. You’re a poor one to be in control. Let it go. What you’ll get is freedom.

    • Ralph Gaily says:

      Deana….Just humble yourself before Him and take His life and total forgiveness….it’s a gift ! Let Him show you how real He is. Don’t fear. “Learn of Me”, He said. Read. His love is absolutely incredible… take it like a little child receives it from a loving parent. You will see !

  3. Mark Seguin says:

    Another very good Catch and thank-you 4 it Pastor John. I really liked this: “The truth is we are all as deeply flawed as anyone else;” and “Some people think that Romans 7, where Paul struggles with two natures, happens only once for the believer. I think it happens all the time. I believe in some form we have this struggle every day” I about stood up and yelled out a big cheer of thankfulnes (sp) over “- the difference being, we always have a way out.” Yes, Amen and thanks be to our God! 🙂

    PS I’ll greatly miss Philip Seymour Hoffman I have liked a lot of his roles he played. i once saw him give an interview, which i heard he didn’t often, on 60 Mintues and he explained why he didn’t and i thought it was jus brilliant! He said (a Mark paraphase) if you see me in a role on stage (his frist love according to this interview, if i am remembering correctly was doing live plays) yet he mentioned if you see me and know about him going through a divorce, or going into rehab, or whatever – then you also think about that and not my performance.

  4. Andrew P. says:

    I think we all understand the “how could he be so stupid?” reaction. R.C. Sproul, Jr. recently wrote something about Biblical interpretation that may help us, though. He suggests that when we read in the Bible of someone doing something stupid, rather than wondering how they could be so stupid we should ask ourselves, “In what ways am I being equally stupid?” Maybe we haven’t taken any heroin, but what have we done that is equally self-destructive?

  5. Lisa in Sunland says:

    I think (or hope) on the inside we all know we are equally as flawed and sinful as anyone else. I think one of the problems of being able to reach out to non-Christians (or even to other Christians) in a “we-are-all-in-this-together” attitude is all those Bible verses about how our lives should be changed now that we are in Jesus’ family. If we are attached to the Vine, then fruit of the Spirit should be busting out all over us. So, then, if we don’t feel fruitful, we worry we are actually detached from the Vine, and everyone can see it if we don’t pretend we have these amazingly-changed personalities full of patience and kindness and love, etc. I know I’m part of God’s family, I gratefully accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me, and so love that God loves me and sees me with “Jesus glasses” on — yes, am so grateful for that! But, even being assured I am part of God’s eternal family, why am I more (and daily) like Paul’s lament about knowing what I should do and not doing it (and vice-versa) rather than an obvious tree full of Spirit-fruit? Sigh….

  6. KaT H. says:

    Thanks so much John for commenting on Phillip Seymour Hoffman. As someone w/ 14 years of sobriety, I live daily w/ the knowledge that I am only a drink away from “being stupid” 😦 However, I know that I am human, PSH was human, you are human–we are ALL human and we are flawed–we make mistakes! Sadly, Mr. Hoffman’s mistake was fatal.

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