“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13
As I boarded a crowded train one morning in Tokyo I felt like I had stumbled into the middle of a hospital operating theater. Almost everyone was wearing a surgical mask. Obviously, the flu season was at its height in Japan so people were taking precautionary measures to protect both themselves and others from the spread of unwanted germs. In allergy season, the usage of such masks is even more widespread as newer versions claim to block out pollens that cause many victims to suffer. Due to increasing demand, masks are now sold in various shapes, sizes, colors, materials and even aromas, with sales tripling in the past decade. Witnessing such a phenomenon, outsiders might wrongly jump to the conclusion that Japanese are germaphobes, but that is largely not the case. The usage of such masks primarily reflects their consideration of others as they press on with the daily demands of life, despite not feeling well.
However, sociologists have recently identified an additional reason for the Japanese propensity to wear surgical masks in public, referring to it as “mask dependency”. Many people, particularly those in their 30s and 40s, will only venture into the public square if they can hide behind a mask and headphones. Wearing a mask enables them to shut out others while mingling among the unavoidable masses of humanity in crowded cities. Young women may also use masks when they don’t have time to apply makeup, but others may don a mask to cover self-perceived flaws or imperfections that might invite hurtful stares and comments. In such cases, masks become like a security blanket and can easily be used to keep other people at arms’ length, reflecting similar trends in social media. Wearing a mask allows a person to function with a large degree of anonymity while still participating in the required routines of life.
While those who refuse to veil their faces in public may find this tendency a bit odd, they overlook their own hypocrisies as they practice this on a daily basis in their relationship with God. Like Adam and Eve covering themselves with makeshift clothing after their disobedience, we are all naturally inclined to hide our faults and failures, foolishly believing that the masks we put on to deceive others will be equally effective with God. However, Scripture reminds us that “everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This is both a terrifying and reassuring truth. But it also serves as a warning about the masks we might be tempted to wear, not just before people, but before our Creator, who sees and knows everything.