Some of those who oppose wearing masks to prevent Covid cite hiding God’s image, hearkening to Genesis 1:26-27 where the writer said humankind was created in God’s image and likeness. What do those words really mean?

Obviously, human visages vary tremendously across the globe, so exactly whose image did the writer have in mind? The writer was a Middle Eastern person, so if it was a face, it would not have been of fair complexion.

Men like to make the case that the image God created was male. However, verse 27 includes the fairer sex. This complicates the interpretation that God is male.

The context of the story is creation, and as we know, it takes both male and female to create human beings. Thus, in creating humans, God is both male and female.

The Hebrew word used here for “man” is adam. It means “dirt,” referring to the minerals from which God created us humans. Many ministers quote Ecclesiastes 3:20 at funerals: “all are of dust, and all return to dust” in a nod to our creation from dirt.

Our problem in referring to God’s image is that no human language is capable of adequately describing deity. Instead, we use metaphors, symbols that try to describe or understand God.

With symbols we connect something recognized by a community that is comprehensible (we human beings) with another thing that is beyond our comprehension (God). To take symbolic language literally leads to the absurd and borders on idolatry.

In Exodus 20:4 the ancient Hebrews were warned against attempting to make any image of God. God cannot be contained in any earthly image, certainly not in a human face.

God is male and female and God is beyond maleness and femaleness. God has no bodily form, hence no gender. For one gender to claim superiority over the other is to violate God’s essence and deface God’s good creation.

God prohibited images among believers because creating an image of God destroys God’s transcendence and reduces God to something less than what God is. We must beware that we do not liken God to a human.

The image of God in people lies in a human’s ability to comprehend God. Of all the animals created, only humans are capable of recognizing God’s essence.

Wearing a mask does not hide the image of God. Rather, wearing one during a pandemic where masks have proven demonstrably effective in slowing the transmission of the virus is the true reflection of God’s image. Country theologians call it the “sense God gave a goose.”

– Mike Mitchell, pastor at Gault Avenue Baptist Church

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