The Vanishing Glory: The Tragic Effects of Long-Term Face Coverings

The Vanishing Glory: The Tragic Effects of Long-Term Face Coverings

Psalm 34:5 Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

A Brief History of Face Coverings

Face coverings and veils are nothing new. Middle Eastern cultures have been covering the face for centuries. In fact, the first book of the Bible, Genesis speaks of this custom on at least three occasions.[1] Historically, veils symbolised chastity, modesty, and subjection. To this day, head coverings and veils remain an important role in many religions, including Orthodox Judaism, and Islam. For these groups, the head covering signifies religious identity and self-expression.  

Whilst veils and head coverings have a long and well-documented history, the surgical face mask is a relatively new invention. According to “History of Surgical Face Masks: The myths, the masks, and the men and women behind them,”[2] by John L. Spooner, face masks first emerged at the end of 19th century and were used as a protective measure by doctors during surgery to prevent airborne bacteria from entering an open wound.

In 1918, the surgical mask became a global phenomenon as the Spanish flu ravaged the world. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus.[3] Historic photographs from this time period depict well-dressed people wearing masks.[4]

Most western cultures discarded the mask for everyday use after World War 2. However, China, and some other eastern countries, continued to wear masks in submission to the Communistic public health campaigns, and to secure recognition of their medical modernity, innovation, and scientific prowess.

In 2002, there was a mask resurgence in most Asian countries with the SARS epidemic. Christos Lynteris, a medical anthropologist, wrote, “It was the 2002-3 SARS epidemic that led to the massive adoption of face masks as personal anti-viral protection in China and elsewhere in East Asia: More than 90 percent of Hong Kong residents reportedly wore them during the SARS epidemic. Once again, as in 1911 [pneumonic plague outbreak]— but on a 21st-century scale — photographs of mask-clad crowds became iconic of SARS across the globe.”[5]

On March 17, 2020, Vanessa Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times with the sub-title, “The surgical face mask has become a symbol of our times.”[6] Friedman said, “When history looks back on the pandemic of 2020, those white or baby blue rectangles that hide the mouth and nose, turning everyone into a muzzled pelican, will be what we see.”[7]

Since Friedman’s article in early 2020, surgical face masks have become not merely a personal choice made by the people, but a mandated health requirement of many governments and countries globally.

As Bible-believing Christians, how should we view face coverings? Should we simply comply with the mandatory mask regulations under the Romans 13 “submission to government commands?” Are there other aspects to consider in this discussion?

The Dignity of the Human Face in Creation

The face or countenance is the centrepiece of our outer man. This is that part of the human body which makes us distinguishable from others, most clearly displays emotion and feeling, and is primarily responsible for communication. Whilst the eyes are said to be “the window to the soul,” the entire countenance is that which reflects the glory and image of God.

A human being’s physical individuality is almost entirely facial. This is why mobile phones and surveillance technology now use facial recognition and retinal scanning to unlock devices, even in preference to fingerprints, patterns, and codes. This is also why terrorists and criminals cover their faces to protect themselves from being recognised. We have all seen those iconic bank robber movies where the perpetrators put on balaclavas or stockings over their head before a holdup.

God designed man with a face that reflects His own glory. Emotions and expressions mirror God’s character, and these are displayed on the human face.

According to the Bible, the face is like the soul’s barometer; it is an outward indicator of the internal workings of the heart. Even a cursory read of the Scripture reveals that emotions and feelings are expressed on the face: learning and wisdom makes a face shine;[8] a blameless man is described as one of laughter and mirth;[9] the state of one’s heart can be observed;[10] laughter and shouts of joy are an expression of God’s powerful deeds;[11] sorrow and despondency are revealed;[12] the presence of sin can be perceived;[13] sickness, health deficiencies, and malnutrition can also be detected.[14]

When we understand the value and dignity of the human face and that it is a “portal” into divine creativity and expression, we will be careful about covering it, and consider carefully why and how long it is veiled.

From Scripture, it is clear that utilising a face covering is not a sinful deed,[15] but there is an argument for open-facedness, and the full expression of one’s personality, individuality, and glory.

The Dehumanisation of Mask-Wearing

Human beings are distinct from the rest of creation.[16] One of these distinguishing features is that of personality. Personality deals with our identity, thinking patterns, communication, and rationale. In this way, we are made in the image of God,[17] and bear His markings both on the inside and the outside.

Our particular focus here relates to our personality as it is displayed on the outside. As we have already seen, the face or countenance is the primary showcase of our personality. It is here that our emotions are displayed, words are verbalised, brows are furrowed, eyes twinkle with delight, dimples emerge, imps of mischief are perceived, lips are curled, humour is expressed, and a host of micro-expressions are at play.

When part or all of the face is covered, we are dehumanised, even if it is for a brief moment. Consider the surgeon. Decked out in his sanitary scrubs, surgical cap, gloves, and face mask, he is a sight to behold. There are virtually no identifying features seen, and his emotional state cannot be observed. You would not be able to pick him out of a line up, and until he removes his mask, you have no idea whether the procedure was a success.

Consider the motorcyclist. He is wearing the leather jacket, pants, and gloves. His helmet hides much of his face so that it is almost impossible to identify him, let alone hear his voice. The motorcyclist must remove his helmet in nearly every establishment because it is deemed a security risk and/or a lack of social etiquette to have the face veiled.

In both examples above, the reason for a face covering is both logical and acceptable. It is a protective mechanism which we applaud. The same is true of those who must wear hazmat suits or personal protective equipment.

There is no doubt that face coverings are essential to certain situations, but it should be noted that for those periods of time when they are employed, the individual is dehumanised. Whether used for personal or occupational reasons, head coverings of any sort are by nature “glory diminishers.”

Is it wrong to wear a mask, face covering, or personal protective equipment? Of course not. We want the surgeon to wear a mask, the workmen to be in a hazmat suit in toxic environments, and the motorcyclist to wear a helmet. However, we only want that temporarily, because the features, emotions, expressions, and glory of the countenance reveal the true character, and this must be seen again as soon as possible.

Being face to face in the Bible was the ultimate sense of nearness and relationship. This is attested to by Jacob when he encountered God,[18] when the Lord spoke to Moses,[19] in the intimacy of the husband-and-wife relationship,[20] and the future revelation of Jesus Christ to His church.[21]

We also note that in the New Testament Church, Paul regularly instructs the believers to greet or welcome one another with a holy kiss.[22] By this, the apostle was not issuing a mandate for kissing per se, but that the churches would be physical and familial in their expressions of endearment towards one another.

The present COVID-19 pandemic has seen many governments mandate the use of surgical masks in virtually all circumstances. This is, of course, an effort to avoid transmitting the contagion to others. Whilst the intentions to protect the public are commendable, the ongoing dehumanisation of society is a very real concern.

Not only are we concealing a good portion of the human countenance by wearing face masks, but we are also impeding our ability to read human behaviour, social cues, body language, and expression. Prolonged use of facial masks will have a significant impact on how we interpret one another, interact, and may even minimise the exchange of common pleasantries.

Children born in the last few years do not know a society without masks. This will inevitably result in some form of social retardation. It is already hard enough for the 1.5% of Australians who are on the Autism spectrum to interpret human emotions without adding face coverings into the mix.

When a government instructs an individual to wear a mask, they are demanding them to be disfigured. They are robbing them of their God-given glory, and this is the very definition of humiliation.

The sad tragedy of society is seen in that it covers what is glorious and reveals what is to be kept hidden. It should not surprise the Christian that once again God’s order has been inverted. In the Garden of Eden, God made Adam and Eve a covering for their nakedness, but not for their faces. Today, we are inclined to expose the immodest parts of our bodies, and now with COVID-19, have obscured that which was designed to reflect God’s glory and creativity.

You see, then, it’s not “just a mask,” it is a form of dehumanisation and humiliation. Am I saying we should never wear masks? No, but it should be rare and avoided wherever possible.

The Display of God’s Grace on the Believer’s Face

Significant time has already been given to the dignity of the human face in creation, but now I would like to conclude this article by looking at the face of the redeemed.

Scripture is replete with references to joy in the life of the Christian.[23] Ultimately, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit within who is the source of true and lasting joy.[24]

At salvation, we become a new creation and are given a new heart.[25] Solomon said, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face.”[26] His father, David, wrote, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”[27]

The Christian should be the happiest individual in all the world, having personally experienced salvation from sin, having no reason to fear death, and with God living inside. These spiritual realities should be expressed on the face.

There is a “double glory” associated with the countenance of a Christian – the dignity of the natural human face, and the cheerful disposition of God’s saving grace.

Face coverings, therefore, should only be employed when circumstances are extreme, and only for very brief periods of time. God’s glory, our individual uniqueness, and the indelible, cheery marks of grace must not be masked for very long. After all, God removed the “spiritual veil” from our hearts,[28] and we now behold the glory of the Lord with an “unveiled face,”[29] surely that should be a reality in the physical realm too.

God has called us to proclaim His excellencies,[30] and most often this begins with a radiant, open-faced, countenance.


[1] Genesis 24:65; Genesis 38:14, 19






[7] Ibid.

[8] Ecclesiastes 8:1

[9] Job 8:21

[10] Proverbs 15:30; Proverbs 16:5

[11] Psalm 126:2

[12] Nehemiah 2:2

[13] Isaiah 3:9

[14] Daniel 1:10

[15] Exodus 34:33-35

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:39

[17] Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:1-2

[18] Genesis 32:30

[19] Exodus 33:11

[20] Song of Solomon 2:14

[21] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[22] Romans 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 2 Corinthians 13:12

[23] Philippians 4:4; James 1:2; Romans 15:13

[24] Galatians 5:22-23

[25] 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ezekiel 36:26

[26] Proverbs 15:13

[27] Psalm 34:5

[28] 2 Corinthians 4:4

[29] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[30] 1 Peter 2:9