September-October entry: “Facing the Truth”
Column Description: Image to Image: Musings on Faith, Media, and Story is a monthly column that illuminates old and new ideas about media ecology from a Christian perspective. Dr. Mitchell will explore what it means to bear God’s image and Christian witness in a mediated world, with a particular focus on the relationships between theology, media, and orthopraxy across different Christian traditions.
By Chase Mitchell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Media and Communication, East Tennessee State University
Facing the Truth
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. (1 John 1:1, New Living Translation)
Those who followed Christ incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, knew a face. His disciples would have recognized Him in a crowd. He was a flesh and blood person with distinct features and facial expressions. The Beloved Disciple saw Jesus’ face and recognized him for who he was: God tabernacled among us. Others doubted or did not understand. When Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father, Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, and yet you still don’t know who I am?” (John 14:9).
Several years ago, my mother’s mother passed on. In grief, Mom later told me, she sat in prayer on her living room couch, and there she had a vision. Her mom—my grandmother (Mum Mum)—appeared before her. Whether it happened in the liminal space between sleeping and waking she couldn’t tell, but it was nonetheless true. All Mom could perceive was Mum Mum’s face. But my grandmother’s gaze was directed elsewhere; her eyes were fixed in reverent love on someone unseen, a person hidden from Mom’s sight. Mom believes that Mum Mum was looking at Jesus’ face. Mom could not herself see Him, not (she took the vision to mean) until she too has finished the race. She described her mother’s facial expression as “transfigured in exuberate joy, transfixed by a source of light just out of my field of view.”
Once, my wife Mott was going through a very difficult time. A chronic pain had become acute and hope seemed far off. Her faith was young. We laid in bed and she asked me something I’ll never forget. “What should I pray for, Chase? Should I just try to imagine Jesus’ face?” For me, her intuition surpasses in love all the prayers of the saints; it’s greater than any of the ascetic techniques proffered down the centuries; it’s theology par excellence. Her heart sought to know the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the scars, of the Person from whom all truth, goodness, and beauty spring.
Fr. Stephen Freeman writes of faces:
In the classical tradition of iconography, no person is ever depicted in profile—with two exceptions—Judas Iscariot and the demons. For it is in the vision of the face that we encounter someone as person. It is our sin that turns us away from the face of another—our effort to make ourselves somehow other than or less than personal. It is a manifestation of our turning away from God.
When we turn away from God the reflection in the mirror is blurred. Our faces are distorted in shame, in fear, in hate, as we reject the Trinitarian community for which we’re purposed. And we become what we behold: selfie-serving acolytes, worldly puppets, questions with no answers. In Till We Have Faces, though, C.S. Lewis shares the good news: “Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words” (emphasis mine). Much of the discord we experience in the world (and in our churches) stems from the false assumption that truth is found—if not in our own image—in mere words, instead of in the dying-and-rising Word whose face turns always toward us in love.
Until we know Jesus face-to-face, his Holy Spirit guides us. For now, He mixes ordinary mud—words, images, voices—with holy spittle to cleanse and open our eyes. Only by abiding in the Spirit, by seeking Jesus’ face in “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), and trusting his Word, may we rightly discern the shadows cast in media res.
 Freeman, S. (2022, Sept. 24). Face to Face. Glory to God for All Things. Ancient Faith Ministries. https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2022/09/24/face-to-face-4/
 Lewis, C. S. (1957) Till We Have Faces. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & Company