Are Masks Cool… or Odd?
When I was a child, I loved to wear masks. This reality can be attributed to the fact the I was a young boy who loved superheroes. After all, Batman wore a mask, Iron Man wore a mask, Spiderman wore a mask… masks were cool! Conversely, wearing a mask as an adult until recent memory seemed… odd. Unless you had a legitimate need to secure a mask on your face, why would you?
Nowadays, we are required to wear masks to go to the store and anything else involved in daily life. I think I speak for most people when I say that it is already becoming tiresome; not only are we socially distancing ourselves from others, but masks aide in further emotionally distancing us from our fellow image bearers. Someone recently commented to me, “People can’t see when I smile—they can’t read my face!” We take for granted how important face to face interaction is in life.
What’s interesting is that, in the history of dramatic presentations, masks were used to convey emotion, not remove it. The famed drama masks you can find on simple google search reveal two important emotions: laughter and sadness. Comedy and tragedy. Drama masks revealed emotions; pandemic masks conceal them.
The Psychology of Masks
The reality, however, is that we were already wearing masks in our everyday life… just not physical ones. We all wear metaphorical masks that are designed to prevent people from knowing our true selves. We wear these masks to present an illusion, to make it seem like we are living the perfect life. These masks are decorated with our titles, our possessions, and our achievements. Think about your response when someone asks the question, “Who are you?” More often than not, we respond by describing what we do—“I’m Bob Erbig, and I am a pastor.” We shy away from describing who we truly are—“I’m Bob Erbig, a sinner saved by the grace of God who still has a long way to go.”
What mask do you wear?
By now, you are probably considering how this intersects your spiritual life. In our pandemic moment, God is using our new normal of mask wearing to reveal the true state our inner lives.
- We are PRONE to hide.
We cannot assess the state of our inners lives without examining where we came from. You may remember the Genesis account of the fall, detailed in the third chapter of the book. Our ancestors, Adam and Eve, bring sin into the world by succumbing to the serpent’s deception—they eat the fruit God told them not to. They disobeyed. They rebelled. And rather than confessing this reality to God… they hid. Look at the scene in Genesis 3:8-10, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’” There is so much packed into those verses, but the bottom line is clear: we are prone to hide. Why do we hide? Adam says it best—we are afraid.
Now think about how this applies to masks. Why do we wear masks when we go to the grocery store? Yes, we are mandated by the state, but we would probably wear them anyway because we are afraid of getting sick. If we apply the same logic to the metaphorical masks we just talked about—we wear them because we are afraid of being discovered as a fraud. We would much rather discuss our accomplishments than our faults. Truthfully, we hide behind our accomplishments, which causes even our closest friends to miss the real “us.” And then we opine that no one truly understands us.
Let me give an illustration—when I was in college I had the opportunity to attend the taping of a popular late night talk show. While it was an incredibly fun experience, I was struck by one reality: there is so much you don’t see behind the scenes. At one point in the show, a band played and the camera only showed the band. As an audience member, I could see the host off to the side looking incredibly disinterested in what the camera was showing. That was something I would never see if I was watching at home!
Do you see my point? We show people what we want them to see—we are prone to hide. But our lives would be so much richer, our relationships would be so much deeper, if we allow the people who love us to see more of us.
- God Sees Behind the Mask.
Every time I read that Genesis account, I always wonder how Adam can be so foolish—did he really think he can hide from God? The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear that God sees right through us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (4:13a). You can’t hide from God. But the bigger question should be—why would you want to hide from God?
Many people go through life wearing a mask, thinking they fooling even God. I think the reason many people do this is because they fear the consequences of being found out. “If God really knew who I was… he wouldn’t love me. He would punish me.” If that is you, let me share a secret: God already sees behind your mask—he’s God! However, let me address the fear that is causing you to wear a mask. God’s desire is not to punish—God’s desires is to forgive. God’s desire is to give grace. This is the reason Jesus Christ came to die on a cross for us (Eph. 2:1-10). Mercy is available for us at the foot of the cross… God’s desire is that we run to it and confess.
The freeing news of the Gospel is that in Christ, we can be fully known and truly loved. Masks don’t work with Jesus—and we shouldn’t want to wear one anyway. He knows what you’ve done, what you’ve thought, what you’ve desired and he still said, “I will die for you so that you may be made right with your Heavenly Father.” Wow.
The safest place in this world is in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
- It Takes Courage to Remove the Mask.
The reality described above is what theologians call justification. We are saved not by what we have done, but by what Jesus has done (Rom. 3:21-26). The rest of the Christian life is about us growing more and more into Christ-likeness. This is what theologians call sanctification. But I want to let you in on another secret: that requires removing the mask.
Will it be scary? Yes, because you will have to confess sin. Will it be painful? Yes, because you will have to forgive and be forgiven. Will it be worth is? Yes, because your intimacy will grow both with God and the people who truly love you. They will know the real you.
I believe most people run away from Christian community because it is hard to remove their masks. Confessing sins is never something we want to do, but it is something that is healthy to do. Of course I recommend you do this with a smaller group of people who love and care for you—it builds intimacy and it grows you more like Jesus.
It takes courage to remove that mask. So the next time you put on that N95 and go to the grocery store, think about what it would look like to take off your other mask with the people you love AND with your Creator.