There was a man outside the church yesterday evening who was hovering in and out of consciousness. I walked out the side door to see if he was ok, and quickly noticed that he was holding a cannister up to his mouth, and appeared to be ingesting something from the cannister. Upon closer observation, he wasn't ingesting, he was inhaling. I also noticed an empty cannister on the bench next to him.
I grabbed the empty cannister and read the label. It was one of those pressurized air cannisters that you use to dust your computer keyboard. I'm not sure why, but I realized that this man was engaged in something called "huffing", a practice that is often used to achieve an alcohol or drug-like intoxication, typically accompanied by intense euphoria and hallucinations. I had heard of this before, but had never seen it in action. I was horrified by what I witnessed.
The young man was bobbing back and forth like a cork in the water, and seemed incapable of focusing his attention on his surroundings. His eyes were sad and hollow, and he looked as if he could understand what I was saying to him, but lacked the ability to respond. He slumped several times into the bench, but would intermittently sit up at attention. It was a disturbing spectacle.
I tried to talk to him, but he was a blank stare. Concerned for his life, I approached him and told him that I was going to take the cannister away from him. I said, "I am going to take this cannister away from you, but if you try to touch me or fight me in any way, I'm going to punch you in the face." I'm not sure if I really would have punched him, but he needed to know that I wasn't going to take any chances. I knew that I was approaching the personal space of a man who was sick, but potentially dangerous. It was as if I was taking human flesh from a zombie.
The only thing I could think to do was to call the police. It was clear to me that this man's life was in danger. In a very real way, he already looked dead. So I called the cops, and they came and picked the man up. At least he was off the streets and no longer in a life threatening situation.
I can't stop thinking about this man. How heartbroken he must be to stoop to such depths. How depraved he must be to resort to getting high off of a can of compressed air. But the thought that has been dominant in my mind is that there is someone out there who loves this young man. Someone cares deeply for him. He's somebody's child, or brother, or dad or husband. He's someone's friend. Even though I only saw him for a few moments, I felt a love for him. God has a plan for him, and he almost certainly doesn't even know it, or can't accept it or is blind to it.
A life without the hope that Christ brings is so desperately sad, and it seems to me that this young man came to a very logical conclusion: Life without hope isn't life at all... It's walking death. He was simply living the outward manifestation of an inward hopelessness. He was taking the despair of a life without Christ to its only logical conclusion.
Jesus said in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." It's the part about "you can do nothing" that really gets my attention. When I saw this young man, I saw those words in human form. In a heart breaking twist of fate, he was staking his hopes on a can of air. Literally, a can of nothing.
Apart from Christ, hope is a vapor, and huffing that vapor will never bring meaning. But with Christ, hope finds its source and substance.
I wish I could tell you that this young man came to his senses, or that I was able to meet with him later and lead him to Christ. That didn't happen. But sometimes we need to see that people are hopeless. Sometimes we need to come face to face with the ugly, horrifying truth that life without Jesus is terribly empty. Like canned air, life is full of wind and fury, but empty as a bubble. If we knew that more profoundly and personally, we might be more prone to actually share the love of God with the people around us. He has a plan for them, and even if they don't know it, we do. Perhaps we should tell them. Maybe it would change everything.