The Smudge on the Mirror
I am quite certain that all of us have experienced fogged up glasses or sunglasses before. Due to COVID-19 and mask wearing, we’ve probably experienced this far more frequently. The foggy glasses inhibit our abilities to see details or specifics that matter when trying to read a label at a grocery store or drive a car.
Just recently a friend and I removed moldy drywall from the basement. We wore suits, respirators, and safety goggles to make sure we were as safe as possible. Most of what I recall from the work was fog and wipe, fog and wipe. My goggles were constantly in need of dehumidifying. Just take a look at some of my drywall cuts and you will be able to tell that I was cutting blindly! Not having a clear view hindered my ability to do well at the task at hand.
The same can be true of stepping out of the shower and having to wipe the mirror a few times so you can begin the work of getting your face in order for the day. However the function of a mirror is vastly different from the function of glasses or goggles. When we go to the mirror we wish to see one thing – ourselves. We desire to see our own unique features. Recently my oldest son said, “You have a lot of wrinkles around your eyes!” This wasn’t news to me – for I too had noticed the said wrinkles several times before his ragging. The reason I noticed is because I look in a mirror when I am next to one.
The same is true in photographs – the first face we usually search for is our own! And then we appraise whether or not it’s a good angle at a good moment or whether it is a poorly timed shot. We either love or hate mirrors and photos because of what they reveal us to look like. But the reason we have a feeling at all about our image is because we are obsessively drawn inward in self-evaluation.
But what if I told you the Scripture doesn’t call us to look into mirrors all the time but rather it calls us to be mirrors all the time. Looking into a mirror is about self image but being a mirror is about reflecting another image. And this is where I want to spend some time. The culture presents a constant “look in the mirror” montage. American Idol, regrowing hair for men, botox and face-lifts are evidences of this inward craze. “A healthy self-image is the key to health,” we are fed from health and wellness experts.
But turn to the Bible and you may be surprised to find no such language. The language of the Bible, the call to the Christian, and even the example of Jesus never (not ever) teach self-imaging as the key to a good anything! C.S. Lewis sums it up when he says, “Our whole destiny seems to lie in the opposite direction, in being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours.”1
The very name “Christian” means “little Christ”! To be sure, each person has a unique role to play just as body has diverse parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). But that unique part isn’t called to “develop a healthy self-image.” It’s called to promote the body of another – namely Christ’s. So even our individuality is given to promote Jesus and to have a healthy Christ-esteem.
But today it is the churches, not fallen culture, that have smudged the mirrors so-to-speak. We have taught an intensely inward vision of Christianity (one that is neither biblical nor has power to save). We have aided and abetted the enemy by turning Christianity into personal therapy. “Christ will help you cope with loss.” “Christ will give you a better outlook.” “Christ will improve your relationships.” These “applications” are not necessarily even akin to Gospel. Counseling can help you cope with loss, meditation can give you a better outlook, and books can help you improve your relationships. “Yeah but not like Jesus can.” Jesus can also seriously destroy your relationships (Matthew 10:34-36) in some cases.
But Jesus isn’t just another way to keep yourself afloat. If anything, he seems far more intent on keeping your self from rearing it’s ugly head. “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:38-39). “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).” ” For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29).” And, truthfully, I could give you pages of examples not only from specific verses but from whole themes of Scripture.
“‘Originality’ in the New Testament is quite plainly the prerogative of God alone; even within the triune being of God it seems to be confined to the Father (C.S. Lewis, 1.).” Church, let us stop smudging the mirror intended to reflect the face of Christ and thus God. This means to stop trying to be noticed, appreciated, or novel. It also means, let us stop trying to be the things God is but with no reference to him: provider, savior, helper, lover, mender, etc.
And certainly let us try to clear the fog of “Christ as therapy” by remembering Christ is King and Christ is our Lord and not a fix for the maladies of the moment. To benefit from Him at all is to bend the knee, renounce sin and self, and receive his identity (his robe and his ring). In doing so, we will reach the ultimate reward for our longing – we will be made like him before our God!
1 C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven, 1984. pp. 267 (A Selection from “Christianity and Literature” Christian Reflections)