Reflections on the human face


The human face has 42 muscles. Some of these let you perform the basic functions of life, like chewing and breathing. But far more of what they do has nothing to do with life-sustaining functions. Facial muscles are so arranged that human beings can also create an incredible variety of expressions.

We can furrow our eyebrows, purse our lips, grin like a Cheshire cat or frown like the Grinch. We talk with our faces. In fact, human facial muscles are as important to human communication as are words. If you have ever tried to have an important conversation by email, text or social media, you know the inadequacy of non-facial communication.

No matter how many words we type and text, print and publish, our most important communications will always take place face to face. That’s why proposals of marriage are not done by email. That’s why we go to church and don’t only read the Bible. That’s why people gather in family rooms and travel to business meetings. Nations even spend millions of dollars to send ambassadors, secretaries and heads of state all over the world to speak face to face. 

Our bodies declare that we were meant to communicate face to face. It’s literally in our DNA. We have muscles, skin and skeletal features that serve no other purpose.

Some would say that this is a remarkable product of evolution. I think that’s hogwash. Such theories assume that everything can be boiled down to pragmatism. Evolutionists will theorize that somehow people who had the special muscles which enabled them to smile were more fit to survive than those who didn’t.

Evolutionary theory cannot find purpose in anything. It can only see random developments either surviving or dying in the meat-grinder of nature. What a purposeless world! No wonder that decades of teaching it to our school children has created so many pessimistic people. 

For my part, I am quite certain that we could survive just as well without faces. We would just have a lot less joy. Faces are for fun, not survival. Evolutionary theory is the most joyless and bleak worldview that anyone can have.

That’s why I have never met an evolutionist that believes their own theory 100 percent. Purposelessness is its soft underbelly. Committed evolutionists like Neil Degrasse Tyson try to cheer you up by telling you that you are made of stardust. But so is a cockroach. Big deal. Without purpose life has no meaning.

The more thoughtful evolutionists generally seek purpose by talking about “saving the human race.” But this doesn’t stand up to evolutionary standards. If human beings evolved from a meaningless single-cell organism and are evolving into something better still, saving the human race has about as much meaning as saving a strain of pneumonia cells.

But where evolutionary theory has no place for play, joyful exuberance is at the center of God’s creation. Creation tells about a God who did something that He didn’t have to do — something that wasn’t necessary for his survival. He made things and people for the sheer joy of making them.

You don’t get more optimistic than that. Who would literally move heaven and earth just to express his eternal love? God would. Not only does this account of the world make loads more scientific sense than any of the current evolutionary theories, it is also way more joyful.

It also helps to explain how we got faces.

What if I told you that God put 42 muscles into your face because he delights in your delight? When we talk to one another face to face, we use muscles and make expressions which have nothing to do with our survival. They have everything to do with our joy.

Those muscles have meaning. They didn’t just evolve and survive the meat grinder. They have been there all along. They are characteristic of being human. They make us uniquely suited for community. They make us not just a community of minds, but a community of bodies. 

All of this also means that faces are forever. If having faces means anything, it means that we are not going to evolve away from having faces. Your face is an integral part of who you are. When you fully communicate yourself to others, you are not just projecting bodiless thoughts. But your very skin and muscles are an inseparable part of communicating yourself. That’s not going to change with time.

Knowing all this, we know ourselves better. Human beings are not just minds haphazardly encased in randomized bodies. Your face is an integral part of who you are; without it, you cannot fully communicate yourself to others. What is more, it’s not just your face that is integral to who you are, so is your entire body. 

This observation is a corrective to one of the strangest phenomena of our day. Among those encumbered by an evolutionary worldview there are many who are estranged from their own body. They drive a wedge between the mind and the body, as though these are not only separable from one another, but at war with one another. 

That’s tragic and it leads to much suffering and death. This suffering and death is both self-inflicted and inflicted on others. Whenever human beings have come to think that certain bodies don’t matter, they have done the most terrible things to those bodies — and therefore, to those people.

Such a tragic worldview cannot arise in a mind that reflects on its own face. If your face is an integral part of who you are, so is the rest of your body. And who you are is not a tragedy, but an exuberant and joyful work of God.

One of the great ironies of our day is the phenomenon called “Facebook.” There in cyberspace 2.6 billion people are trying to communicate without using their faces. Through a flurry of fingers on the keyboard, people try to communicate more and more content to more and more “friends.” 

Has this project improved the human race? I think not. It has not helped to unify us, but only to polarize. It has not helped us to love one another, but it sure adds to the hate. It has not enhanced the discussion of the most important things but made such discussion nearly impossible. In short, it has created far more enemies than friends.

You are not just a mind with a bundle of thoughts. You are a person — body and soul. The very concept of “person” came from the Greek word for “face.” The most important things that you will ever do in your life involve your body. 

So, don’t sell it short. Let’s spend more time using our faces again. It’s one of your most God-like features. It enables you to spread joy and love that is not necessary for your survival. It is totally exuberant and unnecessary. It is what makes life worth living, and what makes you most fully human.

Jonathan Lange is an LCMS pastor in Evanston and Kemmerer and serves the Wyoming Pastors Network. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow his blog at OnlyHuman-JL.blogspot.com.

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