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Face Masks and the Face of GOD

Face Masks and the Face of GOD

By Douglas J. Hudson
Special to Virtueonline
May 25, 2020

I've been thinking a lot lately about face masks. Maybe you have too. If you'll forgive the pun, the subject has kind of been "in-your-face" of late, what with the Covid-19 crisis, hasn't it?

When I first heard the CDC was debating recommending face masks for all, I found it irritating, and was glad they had not. Then once they did recommend them, my reaction was "Oh, please". And once Pennsylvania's governor mandated that "everyone must wear a face mask when in public places, like grocery stores or essential businesses", I was furious, afraid, and furious all at the same. It honestly just offends me to the core, and makes by blood boil. I'm glad he made exceptions for medical conditions (which some have not), but it still makes me boil.

Why have I had such a strong reaction to the whole "face mask" thing? Honestly, I've had a hard time putting my finger on the exact reason.

Is it because they are uncomfortable? Yes...that's part of it.

Is it because they make it hard to breathe -- especially for someone like my wife who has bad allergies and near asthma? Yes, definitely.

Is it because I too, have allergies, and as a kid I had nightmares after seeing advertisements for the movie, "The Man in the Iron Mask", and this feels a lot like that to me? That is for sure.

Or is it because I find the whole "mandate" intrusive, of questionable utility, unnecessary, and feel like it breeds fear amongst people, provides a "false sense of security", and may even do more harm than good? Yes, that's part of it too.

It is one thing for the government to say, "we recommend you wear a mask, because we think it may provide some protection against the virus". But it is quite another to say, "you must wear a mask, or face the consequences".

But even with the intrusiveness, there is something here that goes a lot deeper for me...and it has taken me quite a while thinking and praying about the subject to come to understand why it has bothered me so much, and continues to do so. May I share that with you?

Now this may sound strange, but this is it for me. I find the whole 'mask mandate' violates and mars the image of GOD that we as people are supposed to be. It hides that image, keeps us from "seeing each other as we are", and it even keeps us from seeing and beholding the image of GOD that we each are made to me.

You may think I'm crazy, and maybe I am. But in thinking about all of this, my heart has been drawn over and over to II Cor 3, where Paul talks about the veil that Moses wore to hide his face which was shining from being in the presence of the glory of GOD, and compares that veiled glory to the surpassing 'unveiled' glory of the gospel, whereby we are changed more and more into the restored image of GOD's glory...verses 17-18 say:

"17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

18 But we all, with open (unveiled) face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."

Now when I mentioned this to some friends of mine, they told me, "that passage has nothing to do with wearing masks", and on one level, I agree. I know that it does not prohibit us from wearing masks, unlike a clear command like "thou shalt have no other gods before me", "thou shalt not covet" or "thou shalt not bear false witness", etc. But something kept bothering me and would not let me let it go regarding this, and why the whole mask thing was bothering me so much. And this past weekend, as I thought and prayed about it, this realization came to me.

Verse 18 says that we are changed more and more into the glorious (can I say, restored) image of GOD as we behold Him. But how do we "behold His glory"? Through reading and meditating on the Scriptures? Absolutely! How about through prayer, and worship? Absolutely!

How about through serving others? Yes, indeed. In fact, there is something very interesting here. Jesus said, "inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you've done it unto me." So there is something to the idea of "seeing Jesus" in one another. Especially, as Mother Teresa once said, seeing Jesus "in His distressing disguise"...the 'least of these'...the suffering, the dying, the sick, the poor, the needy, and even in the 'sin-sick' soul, which is frankly all of us broken humanity.

So...one way we can behold His glory, is through the glory of what He has made. And He can be especially seen in people. For, in truth, "GOD made man in His own image. In the image of GOD, He created him. Male and female, created He them." So it is, that we as human beings are made in the image and likeness of GOD. A broken and marred image, a damaged likeness, for sure, due to our sinfulness. But the image and likeness of GOD nonetheless.

When I think of the "image of GOD", I can't help but think of the concept of icons...images. Some of us would call it "religious art". Not something to bow down and worship (an idol), but a physical expression of spiritual truth. There is something beautiful in the concept of icons...physical pictures of spiritual realities. Our LORD Jesus is the penultimate expression of this in being the Word made flesh- "the brightness of His (the Father's) glory, and the express image of His person" (Heb 1:1). And, in a lesser sense of course, that is what we are as human beings - "icons (images) of GOD".

And what is the focal point of an icon/image of GOD...might I suggest to you, that it is in the most expressive part of our physical body -- the human face.

When we look at and think about people, how do we see the characteristics of GOD? Through their minds, their words, their attitudes, their actions...yes, of course. But is it not also when we look at each other face-to-face? When we think of a person that we love -- what do we think of? Their shoulder? Their arm? Their foot? No, we think of their face.

The human face is perhaps the most beautiful and one of the deepest physical revelations of the glory of GOD! Here we see love, and joy (in a child's smile...or the smile of a bride and groom...or a proud parent). Here we see pain and hurt and sorrow...and anger at evil...and so much more. Remember the line from the musical version of "Les Miserables", "To love another person is to see the face of GOD".

The expressions and emotions of the human face express so much...and I would suggest to you, that seeing one another "face-to-face", as we say, speaks of intimacy, and personal knowledge, and closeness and sharing.

Do a word search in an online Bible website (like biblegateway.com) for the word "face" in the KJV, and you'll get 444 hits. To narrow it down a bit -- look for phrases like: "face to face", "Thy face", 'face and seek', 'face and hide', "my face", for "face of Jesus", etc.

It's amazing to see how much the Bible actually has to say about the face...the face of GOD, the face of men, and "seeking the face" and "hiding the face".

Just a few examples (again from the KJV):

"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Cor 4:6

"The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." Numbers 6:24-26.

"Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore." Psalm 105:4

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

"Wherefore hidest thou thy face, and forgettest our affliction and our oppression?" Psalm 44:24

"And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods." Deuteronomy 31:18

"Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities." Psalm 51:9

"Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved." Psalm 80:3

"And hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily." Psalm 69:17

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Cor 13:12

Phrases like seeking the face, seeing face to face, make His face shine -- imply acceptance, approval, blessing, intimacy, and love. Phrases like hiding the face or turning away the face imply rejection, disapproval, anger, separation, fear, and shame. We are needy people -- in as much or more need of love and intimacy -- as we are in protection from some physical ill, like a virus. And in the process of trying to protect from that, we can end up separating, discouraging, and producing fear.

There is something extremely beautiful in the icon/image of GOD that each of us is, and that can show very brightly in the human face. And in the human face, we can also see the pain of the marred image of GOD due to sin...and that in itself speaks of the wholeness and restoration that the goodness of GOD Himself is bringing through redemption in Christ.

On my drive to work, someone has a wooden silhouette of a moose on their lawn, which I think they have put there to scare deer away. They put a big mask on the moose as if to say 'hey, even the moose is wearing a mask'. Either makes you laugh, or maybe say, "Oh brother".

But how would you feel if you saw someone putting a face mask on a statue or picture of Jesus? Or the Virgin Mary? Or one of the saints? Or cutting out paper masks to put on the stained glass windows in the church? It's kind of an offensive thought, isn't it?

I know it may sound odd to some, but the mandated masking feels like we are hiding and even further marring the image of GOD in each of us...and driving us further apart. During times like these when we are being forced to isolate and separate...the God-given human need for intimacy and closeness is amplified more and more. Our need for each other, and our need to "behold Him" face to face is even greater.

I'm not telling anyone not to wear a mask, if that is their conviction. And I understand the whole "Romans 13" thought process of 'submitting to the governing authorities". I try to do that wherever I can. But note that all is within the context of "love does no harm to a neighbor" (Rom 13:10). And, in my heart, this mandate is dehumanizing and truly doing some pretty bad harm to our neighbors...and even to our ourselves.

So...when is too much too much? What if they said, "You and your family must wear masks at home." Or, "you must wear a mask 24/7". Don't think that is too far afield. It could easily happen. Next step could even be universal burkas. That would cover up everything...and probably not be accepted quite so well.

But even just as things currently are, in this whole "mandated mask thing", my conscience and my heart says -- "This is too much. I can't do it." That's my conviction. The well-meaning command -- in attempting to combat the virus -- ends up, in the heart of this lover of Jesus, anyway, trying to make me hide the image of GOD in me...and keep me from seeing the image of GOD in you.

May GOD quicken to your heart whatever He desires you to do in this strange season of life. Wear a mask if believe that is His will for you. And may GOD bless you in it.

But when you do have the occasion to see someone else "face-to-face", take the time to see the beauty and glory of the image of GOD that each person has been made to be. Even do that the next time you look at yourself in the mirror, for you are an image of GOD too, that is in process of being restored, if you belong to Christ.

And give glory to the GOD and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, whose image that person is, and who Jesus died and rose again to redeem that person, and make them to be a perfect likeness of Him.

TO HIM be glory and honor forever!

Douglas J. Hudson is a lay Christian. He is an engineer by profession and self-identifies as a Nicene Christian. Several years ago, he walked the Canterbury Trail into the REC coming from NC Southern Baptist roots. While still loving Anglican liturgy and heritage, he and his wife currently attend and worship at a PA Baptist church where they met and were married 25 years ago.

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