We are living in an entirely unexpected time. Masks have become a required component of our public wardrobe. I don’t know anyone who likes, or wants, to wear a mask. But the whole mask thing gives us a good bit to ponder.
The invasion of the Covid virus has generated a good bit of controversy as to how seriously we need to take it. Some see it as no more than a bad flu, though the mainstream view is to take it far more seriously. Along with the diverse opinions about the virus itself and how to best respond to its presence, there are diverse opinions about masks. On the one hand, some people regard mask wearing as personal protection and then extend that perspective to regard mask wearing as a symbol of fear, and optional. On the other hand, others view masks as a necessary and appropriate means of participating in community health. Regardless of your perspective on the matter, wearing a mask carries with it a good bit of Biblical support.
Medical professionals have made it quite clear that the purpose of the wearing a mask is not to protect ourselves nearly as much as it is to protect others from our own virus particles should we be housing any. And from that viewpoint, Christians have a vested interest in mask wearing. It is now what love looks like. In his letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul tells his readers to regard others as more important than themselves. We believers now have a unique opportunity to choose to wear an uncomfortable and stifling mask as a way of caring for others; more particularly, our mask wearing honors our Lord’s regard for the weak and vulnerable. And if we apply Romans 14 to this situation, we would use our freedom in Christ to regard the weak from a position of humility rather than superiority.
There is yet another Christian aspect to mask-wearing. Since the point of wearing a mask is to help us keep our germs to ourselves, a mask can be a symbol of our taking responsibility for our “stuff” and not inflicting it on others. In a world of blame and shame, of the good offense as the best defense philosophy, taking responsibility for our germs—literal and metaphorical—is also a most appropriate and powerful way to love others.
But even though wearing a mask can be a contemporary way to demonstrate love, there is still a part of mask wearing that bothers me. God is the God of truth, and when Christ walked on earth as God Incarnate, He strongly denounced any form of hypocrisy, pretense, and self-righteousness. The Gospels are full of accounts involving the redemption of ragged sinners, misfits, and outcasts. The woman wishing to be healed by merely touching Christ’s robe encountered a Lord who rejected her desire to be anonymous, wishing instead to initiate a genuine, personal, real relationship with her. Wearing a mask carries a historical connotation of hiding something, of pretense, of not being completely honest and transparent: everything that Christianity is not.
So, what can we do about the inherent tension in wearing a mask? There is no one perfect, universal answer. I would suggest that a good part of practicing Christianity as we wear a mask involves our thought-life as much as anything else. If you are like me, I fumble to get my mask secured well enough behind my ears to not slip off, and I become hot and claustrophobic quickly. It is easy to get cranky! But if I set my mind to the association between wearing a mask and loving others, I will be in a much better position to treat others with patience and kindness as I wear my mask and deal with those around me. And if I remain mindful that my mask is for safety purposes and not a screen to hide behind, I can intentionally be genuine and authentic in my words and behaviors.
There is no doubt that this is a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and suffering. But it is also an opportunity to love others, and in doing so, to invite the Holy Spirit to conform our character to that of Christ in order to love better and more deeply. May we wear our masks to God’s glory.