Do Masks Really Conceal the Image of God in the Face of Man (HC LD 3, QA 6-8)?

Are wearing masks for prolonged periods of time concealing the image of God in the face of human beings? Some Christians argue yes. Are they right? What does it mean for human beings to be created in the image of God? Do we see God’s divine image in our eyes, noses, mouth, complexion, and so forth? Is wearing sunglasses ungodly because we are veiling the glory of God in our eyes? I’m not asking whether masks are helpful or not, nor am I addressing the many concerns with being forced by the government to wear masks. I’m asking a theological question that directly applies to how we think of God, and how we think of God is of utmost importance. What does it mean for human beings to be created in the image of God, and do masks conceal that divine image?

Setting the consideration of Jesus and 2 Corinthians 4:6 aside, the moment we say the image of God is reflected in the face of mere human beings, we are arguing that the image of God is physical or temporal. Right? Should we be thinking of God in physical or temporal ways? Scripture uses anthropomorphisms to talk about God (e.g. God’s hand, face, etc.), but does that mean we should think of God in physical or temporal ways? I don’t think so.

For one, as the Children’s Catechism states, “God is a spirit and does not have a body.” [1] In John 4:24, Jesus clearly stated, “God is spirit.” In Luke 24:39, after the resurrection, Jesus said, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Make no mistake, Jesus is the God-man, but he was referring to his resurrected human body. God is a spirit and does not have flesh and bones. The divinity of Jesus is not the humanity of Jesus. The two natures shouldn’t be mixed, mingled, confused, or separated from his person. Certainly, the God-man Jesus has flesh and bones because he is one person with two natures, a divine nature, and a human nature. Contrary to Word of Faith theology, we are simply human.

Additionally, the Bible teaches that God is invisible. 1 Timothy 1:17 states, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Paul also said in Colossians 1:15, that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God.” So God is invisible. Since that is the case, I would think it’s obvious that the image of God in human beings was not and is not physical.

In his excellent commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharias Ursinus argued, “The image of God, in which man was created, consisted not in the shape or form of the body, but in the essence of the soul, in its powers and integrity.” [2] That masks conceal the image of God in man’s physical face is not a valid argument against masks, but even more, it’s a poor doctrinal statement.

There is much to be said on these profound subjects, but we only have a bit more time. So let’s go in one direction. Consider Paul’s line of thought in Ephesians 4. In verse 22, Paul says, “put off your old self” that is “corrupt through deceitful desires.” Is he talking about shedding our skin like a snake? No. He’s talking about our sinful nature or the corruption within us. Not physical, spiritual. He then adds “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self.” Is this renewal and new self physical or spiritual? It’s spiritual. We are not putting on a new layer of skin. That’s creepy. We’re putting on a new spiritual self. And Ephesians 4:24 makes it all clear. This new self is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” There it is. The likeness of God is righteousness and holiness, not beautiful skin complexions and high cheekbones. Though I think the psychological and practical effects of wearing masks should be carefully considered, masks cannot conceal righteousness and holiness.

With human depravity in mind, Heidelberg Catechism 6 asks, “Did God, then, create man so wicked and perverse?” It answers, and listen to how it talks about the image of God in man:

No, on the contrary, God created man good and in His image, that is, in true righteousness and holiness, so that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love Him, and live with Him in eternal blessedness to praise and glorify Him.

The image of God in man is not physical, and we should not think of God in physical terms. That would be idolatry, and Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven” which teaches us “not to think of God’s heavenly majesty in an earthly manner” (HC 121). We ought not to think of God as a pale white muscular man with flowing gray hair and beard as the Sistine Chapel grossly depicts Him. Again, God is an invisible spirit who cannot be depicted accurately with any level of reverence. The image of God in man is spiritual. God created man good and also in His image. What image? True righteousness and holiness.

I think the Westminster Confession of Faith is helpful at this point. It says in 4:2 that “[God] created man, male and female, with reasoning minds and immortal souls, having knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His image.” [3] Does wearing a face mask inhibit a rational mind? The snarky may answer yes. Does a face mask conceal our immortal soul, our knowledge, our righteousness, and our holiness? No. If you want to argue against masks, please do, just choose other arguments.  

God created us in His image, as rational and relational creatures, as immortal souls with the capacity of knowledge, righteousness, holiness, and love in order that we might rightly know God as our Creator, heartily love Him, and dwell in His presence forever to praise and glorify Him. Your dog doesn’t know and love God as you do. Your cat doesn’t either. No other physical or temporal or earthly creature bears the image of God. Only you and I do, and the image is not physical.

Those who want to argue strongly against masks may do so, but they should not use the image of God argument because of what it implies about God and the image of God in man. Yes, our bodies will be glorious at the resurrection. Yes, we are human beings who are very different from God. We are creature; God is Creator. But, we are also soul. We are also being conformed to the image of Christ – we were predestined unto this glorious end (Rom. 8:29) – and it’s not some miraculous plastic surgery. As our bodies wear out, we are being conformed to the image of God’s Son as we become more like him in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We become more like his beautiful image when more and more the Holy Spirit awakens in us “a heartfelt joy in God through Christ and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works” (HC 90). It’s not physical, but it is gloriously spiritual.

Isn’t it marvelous that as your face gets a little fuller and the wrinkles take over, deep within your heart God is restoring His image in you by the power of the gospel? You are being made like Christ. Yes, your body will be resurrected like Christ’s physical body, but your soul will be perfected, made magnificently beautiful, and no mask can veil the beginning of that beauty in you. Though it may be reflected a bit there, the beauty of God is not in your face, it’s in the sanctification of your heart. 

[1] Philip Rollinson & Mark E. Ross, The Children’s Catechism: A New, Modern Version (Signal Mountain: Summertown Texts, 1988), 4.

[2] Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, Trans. Rev. G. W. Williard, A. M. Electronic version Ed. Eric D. Bristley, TH.M. (2004), 244. 

[3] The Confessions of Our Faith, Fortress Edition, ed. Rev. Brian W. Kinney (Fortress Book Service & Publishers, 2007), 9.

Quotes from the Heidelberg Catechism are taken from Zacharias Ursinus & Jonathan Shirk, The Heidelberg Catechism (Manheim: Small Town Theologian, 2021). Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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