To See God Beyond the Mask

To See God Beyond the Mask November 29, 2011

Often, we think about the time of Jesus and we believe we would have readily recognized him as the messiah and followed him without question. We are so used to what we have come to believe about him, we do not understand why anyone would believe differently. Here is Jesus, here are all his miracles, here is what he predicts will happen, here is what happened. Why couldn’t the people of Israel recognize him?

And yet, Jesus is there before us, and we do not recognize him. Jesus is always coming to us in unexpected ways. What happened on the road to Emmaus was not a one time event. Jesus is still coming before us, testing us, seeing our reaction to him. Do we recognize him under the guise he uses to come to us – in the poor, suffering people of the world?  We are told that what we do for them, we do for Jesus.[1] This means that Jesus is to be found in them. The preferential option for the poor is in itself a preferential option for Jesus; it is about our putting Jesus and his ways above all else. It’s not just a humanistic enterprise; it is a recognition of the divine interaction with humanity and lifting it up to the level of reverence which it is due. If we cannot see Jesus in the poor, we show we do not yet recognize Jesus. We do not have to live in some past time: the time of Jesus remains with us, and Jesus is there, standing alone, cold and hungry, waiting for our response. Will we follow him?

Compassion brings us to Jesus; when our hearts are moved, when love takes over, we are able to see the world differently; it is no longer a world divided into antagonist parts due to sin, but it is a world united as one in Christ.  The world is full of masks – sin contaminates our visage, and does not allow the image and likeness of God – of Jesus – to shine forth. As the theology behind icons tells us, the one whose image we have brings to us the presence of the person behind the image. In each person, the presence of Jesus is there – but when sin puts masks on everyone and everything, then we cannot see Jesus and we will ignore him when he stands there, before us.  To get beyond that mask, to get beyond the illusory experience of the world brought to us by sin, to be able to see the image of God in everyone and so bring forth the presence of Jesus in them, we must push forward in compassion, in acts of love – the more we love, the more we can see God because God shines forth in such love.

Philip K. Dick understood that God comes to us in masked form, and he recognized in doing so God is testing us:

Axiom: masks do not resemble the visages concealed by them. If we know that the world is a mask of God, the problem of evil (undeserved suffering) is somewhat answered. But why must God mask himself? Answer: man must solve the moral and epistemological puzzles presented to him by the world in order to come to life (become disjunctive from what is not-him). He can join the world or he can repudiate it. This is a very serious game, this guessing game. It only serves its purpose if man knows relatively little about what is going on. E.g., if he knows he will be rewarded for balking he will balk in order to obtain the reward – the test will be contaminated. He must balk with no knowledge of reward; in fact he knows he will be punished (by world, the BIP).[2]

What PKD did not understand is that we are the ones who put the mask on God. Our sin masks God from us, and God allows this to happen because God, in his love, desires our salvation and knows if we come to him full of sin, and he is not masked, the suffering would be too great for us. We would turn away from him merely because of how awful his presence would seem to us. But the more we dwell in the power of love and through such love, find our sins melting away, the more he comes to us unmasked – until at last we shall see him as he truly is when we become as he is.[3] He can, from time to time surprise us, show us of himself from behind the mask – to help strengthen us and our resolve in following him. The test is true, and there are no definitive worldly rewards which will be given to us if we follow through and prove ourselves true to God – we follow God and do what is right for the sake of the good itself. But, the greater our compassion, the further we move and act in the field and domain of love, the more God will reveal himself to us – the masks of the world will (at least momentarily) melt away allowing us to see the kingdom of God with Jesus in his full glory. We will see Jesus in the world, we will see Jesus’ presence even in things which might surprise us, such as in the poor, abused animals of the world: “I have seen the Savior wrapped in the crazed, crapping, dirty, wild body of an animal, then transformed and eternally my friend. Christ in deliberate disguise, and the passion fulfilled in victory: resurrection.”[4]

All the creatures of our God and king are called to reveal the glory of God.  Can we see him in them or will we only look at the mask put upon them and the whole world due to sin?

[1]  “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’  And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’  Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’  And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:31 – 46 RSV).

[2] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis. ed. Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2011), 342.  BIP is short for “Black Iron Prison.”

[3]“ Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2 RSV).

[4] Philip K. Dick, Exegesis, 318.

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