Prosopagnosia: When You Cannot See the Face of God
Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognize faces. Can you imagine a life where you can recognize everything but the people you love most? Imagine not recognizing your parents, your spouse, or your children.
Imagine being baffled by your own reflection.
Your life would revolve around a new question:
“Who is that?
For some, prosopagnosia is more than a thought experiment; it is an everyday reality.
One woman now suffers from prosopagnosia after surviving a stroke. A recent article about her inspirational story described how “even her own reflection is a mystery.”¹ This almost-unimaginable condition allows the person to “see” faces in real-time; however, once their eyes are closed it is impossible to recreate the faces in their mind’s eye.
How does she get by? She uses other cues to determine the identity of people she knows. She can recognize them by their outfit or their hairstyle. While she cannot “see” their face, their identity is clearly seen by expressions and actions caused by the mind behind the face.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you recognize yourself? Do you know who you are?
Most of us will ask these questions at some point:
- Who am I?
- What am I going to be?
- Why am I here?
Some will continue asking these questions–never finding an answer strong enough to satisfy their restless souls. Some of them will try to find the face of God.
And some of them will fail.
There are times in the Bible where God hides his face from those who are living in rebellion:
“But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, NIV).
An old English proverb says that the eyes are the window to the soul. The concept of the eye as a barometer of spiritual health is found in the Gospel of Matthew:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23, NIV)
How fascinating is the concept of light. Without it, we cannot see. When we can “see,” it is merely a reflection of the noumenal.
The eye, it seems, is like a switch for the soul. When the eye allows light to pass through, we will not only see–we will be filled with light. If the eye rejects light, it fails to see the reflection of reality, and although you can stare into a mirror, you can never peer directly into your own soul. The mirror is simply a reflection. But a reflection of what? Failure to answer this single question leads to a lifetime of questions without answers.
But there is an answer:
Not in the literal sense, but in the spiritual sense. You have been made in the likeness of Him, sharing the greatest of all possible qualities:
- Designed for rationality
- Infused with consciousness
- Built to love
- Crafted to seek relationships
- Privileged with Free Will
You will never see God if you only look for his face. Were he to reveal himself undeniably, you would have no choice but to love him (thus violating your free will–your free choice–to love him.) As C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters:
“He cannot ravage. He can only woo.”²
But God has given us enough, and Romans 1 lingers like a stern warning from the ultimate authority:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, NIV).
When we cannot see the face of God, we must “see” him by the things he has made. When you accept the light of God, you will no longer be frustrated by your own reflection.
Augustine told us in his work Confessions:
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”³
Give your heart rest by giving it to God. When you do, you will see the face of God and ask a new question to the person in the mirror:
“How can I serve Him?”
What allowed you to see the face of God?
- Futility Recipe: Unbeatable Answers to Unasked Questions
- Cultural Captives: Beliefs, Behavior, and the Future of America
- Awakening: Open Your Eyes and Become Alive
¹ Lisa Sigell, “Her Own Reflection is a Mystery Due to Face Bilndness,” CBS Los Angles, Local, November 1, 2013, http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/11/01/her-own-reflection-is-a-mystery-due-to-face-blindness/
² C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 39.
³ Saint Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine, tr. Edward Bouverie Pusey (401 A.D.), Kindle ed., 4.
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About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.