The latest battlefield in our country’s never-ending culture wars is a strange one indeed.
In the midst of a global pandemic, a small but vocal minority of folks are refusing to wear face masks in public as some sort of bizarre virtue signaling to their fellow Fox News viewers that they won’t be held down by the tyranny of..um…not getting sick and dying?
Stranger still are those that take things a step further and claim that not wearing a face mask isn’t just about freedom, it’s an act of faith.
Well, apparently covering one’s face is actually covering up the image of God.
You know, because the Bible says we are made in the image of God and the Bible is always being literal when you want it to be.
There’s more than a dash of some next level narcissism, if not idolatry, going on when we transform our faces into the face of God, but what bothers me more is the profound lack of understanding about what it means to be created in the image of God.
Of course, the refusal to wear face masks in public certainly speaks to the deep, blind, and self-defeating divisions that have been running rampant in our country for years now, but this fundamental misunderstanding of the image of God as a physical attribute rather than something to do with how we live and move and have our being in the world, speaks to a dangerous lack of theological imagination that ultimately makes everything in heaven and earth about “me.”
Put simply: the image of God is not a physical attribute.
The image of God that the Creator imprinted upon us when we were drawn up from the dust of the earth is an extension of the fundamental nature of God’s own being, not God’s outward appearance.
And that nature is love.
Which is why the image of God isn’t found in how we look. It’s found in acts of love and grace, compassion and forgiveness, humility and self-sacrifice.
This is why we talk about God as the Trinity in the Christian faith. It’s not because we love weird, nonsensical math. It’s because who God is at the very center of God’s nature is a being in loving communion: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one, eternal outpouring of love into and for the other.
It’s this other focused, self-sacrifical love that has been imprinted upon us since creation. It’s this sort of radical love of the other in which the image of God is found.
Which makes the sort of self-centered, endangering our neighbors refusal to wear face masks in public not just reckless, but fundamentally antithetical to the image of God.
We have to move past the juvenile and frankly absurd idea that the image of God is somehow a physical attribute and begin to imagine (a word that not coincidentally shares roots with “image”) or look for ways to bear the image of a loving, healing, communal God in the midst of world desperately in need of love and healing and a ongoing reminder that we aren’t in this thing alone.
Imagination is an act of creativity and creativity is an act of the divine, an act that incarnates the image of God in and for the world God so lovingly created.
We can see some of that loving imagination at work in how people are finding creative ways to be with, celebrate, and help each other during this crazy and often scary moment in our collective history.
But if being a bearer of the image of God is really as important to us as we profess it to be, then we need to continue to imagine new and creative ways to love and serve our neighbors during this crisis.
Ways of bearing the image of God in the truest sense of incarnating God’s sacrificial love in and for the world through the kind of love that puts others’ needs before our own.
The kind of love that cares enough about those around us to do things we don’t really want to do if it helps keep our neighbors safe, healthy, and alive.
The kind of image bearing, self-sacrificial love that wears a face mask in public.
Our faces are not the image of God.
But wearing a face mask for the sake of others most certainly is.