As the deadly pandemic rages, masks are more plentiful and controversial than at any other time in human history.
The origin of masks is intriguing. Masks have been worn in nearly all cultures since the first couple sewed fig leaves to disguise their sin and cover their shame. Face masks have been associated with ceremonies of religious and social significance for funerals, fertility rites, and the curing of sickness.
As time passed, masks were used on festive occasions or to portray characters in dramatic performances, especially reenactments of mythological events by ancient Greek “hupocrateis,” or “actors.” Our word “hypocrite” describes a person who pretends to be something or someone else. Many memorable iconic characters on television and movies are identifiable purely by the masks used to disguise their true identities. The visual graphic of “drama” is a pair of masks denoting “comedy” and “tragedy.”
Today’s masks fit over our noses and mouths to protect against the coronavirus, but they also cover important facial features. They hide whether a person is smiling or frowning. It’s almost impossible to recognize others unless they are close enough, and their voices, gestures, and movements are familiar.
We don’t have to wear masks of caring, sincerity, presence, worship, and love.
Many times in Scripture characters disguised themselves, usually to facilitate some purpose that seemed justified. An Israelite prophet disguised himself as a bondman with “his headband . . . over his eyes” so he could gain access to King Ahab and speak God’s word of warning to him (1 Kings 20:38-40).
Not every disguise was used for noble purposes, such as the one used by King Saul when he inquired of the spirit of Endor (1 Sam. 28:7-10).
Masks are unnecessary when it comes to our relationship with God. The Bible promises: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isa. 40:31).
In this setting wearing a mask of self-sufficiency might cause us to miss divine opportunities for greater wisdom and incur irreparable damage to heart, soul, and mind. We can grow weary by pretending to cruise through daily routines on our own. Masks disguise the truth that we’re so busy (“being under Satan’s yoke”), we don’t see the pitfalls or traps he sets for us.
We have to reflect on God’s grace and be grateful for His blessings. We don’t have to hide behind masks. Wrote the apostle Paul: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). By God’s grace we never have to wear masks, because God knows us inside and out and loves us just the same.
So away with the disguises we use to appear “other” than what we are, trying to justify ourselves. We don’t have to wear masks of caring, sincerity, presence, worship, and love, because these attitudes are studied, learned, purposeful, and intentional in lives informed by God’s Word and transformed by His love.
This year may feature more of the chaos that characterized 2020—pandemic, panic, and political rancor. But Jesus looks behind and beyond our masks into our hearts. He knows our true identity as God’s children.
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.