Limiting “The image of God” to physical appearance may be downright blasphemous enough. Using our faith as an excuse for not protecting others is actually the very opposite of the image of community in which God calls us to live.
We hear the endless drone of commercials telling us about these “challenging times,” to the point that I am monumentally sick of that phrase. When exactly are we not facing “challenging times?”
Our current “challenge,” however, is not much of a challenge for me at all. It seems that we are now in a battle over willingness to wear a face mask in public. According to some, doing so is the same as covering up the image of God.
We probably do not have time in a blog post to go into the blasphemous idea that God’s image is contained within physical appearance. Does this mean that white people look like God, but people of color do not? Vice-versa? What about people with facial disabilities or other issues society deems “deformities?”
The image of God is much more deeply ingrained within us in a way that extends far beyond physical appearance. I will leave it to my friend Zack Hunt to give a full explanation of what the phrase “image of God” truly means.
But some Christians are now latching onto another angle to justify not wearing a mask or other PPE in public. The newest declaration of “faith” is to state out loud or on social media that “I will not live in fear.”
Allow me to begin my thoughts by stating why I do live in fear, and why I consider wearing a mask because of that fear to be an act of faith.
Our family is partially responsible for the care and well-being of my 80-year old mother. She does well on her own, but we often have to be in contact with her. We also serve as guardians for a long-time friend who had a stroke and now resides in assisted living. Although the facility has restricted visitors for over two months, he now goes out at least once a week for necessary doctors’ visits due to other health issues.
Yes, I am very afraid. Not for myself, but for them. What would I say if they got sick and my defense for this was a refusal to wear a mask, or to take any other recommended precautions?
As for the effectiveness of masks, I have no idea. I am not a doctor or biologist or epidemiologist. But if the majority of doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and medical personnel think they are important, I will side with them. My own discomfort or inconvenience seems fairly petty when it comes to the health and well-being of those that I love.
Some may respond, “Well, that’s you. You do what you think is best, but that’s not me.” Rest assured that wearing a mask is not me. But this is not about me. This is about the health and well-being of other people. And if my fear of harming others requires living and acting differently, then it is both faithful to Christ and to Christ’s purpose.
Refusing a mask, social distancing, or other life changes because “I will not live in fear” also strikes me as completely disingenuous. How many people who say this also have insurance? How many are ardent defenders of the second amendment because they fear that someone could attack their home and family? Do any of them have a savings account, an alarm system, or a password on their wifi?
Maybe the word “fear” only applies when something makes us feel uncomfortable or inconvenienced. Or we just do not want to do it.
While my personal circumstances drive these decisions, they really should not matter. Christianity is not a call to unrestricted personal freedom. It is a call to sacrifice personal convenience, and even personal rights in Christ, for the good of the whole community. Numerous passages illustrate this point, but I will focus on two: 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 14:13-23.
The passage in Corinthians tells us that WE are the “Body of Christ,” with many parts that all serve different functions. But all of us, with individual lives and gifts and talents, all work within the Body of Christ. No one can live fully without recognizing the importance of the other, and the necessity of working together for a good that is far greater than our personal choices.
Verses towards the close of the chapter sum up this position: “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (NRSV).
Individual citizens may claim that their personal freedom takes precedent over the concerns of others. Those who claim to be followers of Christ have renounced that luxury. We are called to put ourselves aside for the good of the whole.
Perhaps no passage illustrates this better than Romans 14. Here, Paul completely acknowledges the right of Christians to exercise their personal freedom.
He then turns around and asks them not to exercise that freedom for the good of others.
According to the scriptures, exercising your personal freedom could do harm to other believers, and may drive them away from the Body of Christ. No personal claim is worth the cost to the lives and well-being of those who are—or may become—disciples of Christ. For the good of all, we are expected to set aside any issue of personal privilege, freedom, or convenience.
This is not because we are afraid. It is to help others to deal with whatever risk they face, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to us. God’s true image is demonstrated when we strive to live as a part of the community of believers rather than trying to spiritual superiority as individuals. When we act for the good of others in community instead of in our own personal self-interest, then we are truly showing the image of God to the world.
Following safety protocols in light of a virus that has killed over 90,000 people in three months is surely an inconvenience, to all of us. And it is impossible to make anyone follow those protocols. Trust me when I tell you that my mother will defy my objections and high-tail it to her hair dresser and nail salon the minute she gets the chance.
But this is not justification for me to stop doing all I can to avoid spreading this virus to her. Or to the nurses who take care of my friend. Or to the grocery clerk who goes to work every day to ring up my groceries. Or to the restaurant employee who prepares my carry-out order. Or to the person who brings my mail. Or to the Amazon delivery driver, whom I have kept exceedingly busy over the last 60+ days.
If I am following safety protocols out of fear for their safety as well as my own, then my fear is well-founded and faithful. And if we are not willing to sacrifice our ease and comfort for that, then God help us.