Pastoral Perspectives

When Masks Are No Longer Needed

According to traditional Chinese beliefs, the Hungry Ghost Festival which falls annually on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month would have just been celebrated earlier this September. As it is believed that the souls of the dead are allowed to roam on earth during this seventh month, all sorts of offerings in the form of food items and money are made as a way to provide for one’s deceased family members. For some, it also serves as a means to appease any spirits who may otherwise get up to mischief if ignored. 

What is really surprising though is to read from social media that there are some shops in Hong Kong selling papier-mâché facial masks meant for the deceased. Given that the current pandemic has adversely affected the living, one would have been forgiven for thinking that the dead would be immune. Perhaps those shops offering such other-worldly merchandise are merely trying to brighten the gloomy mood caused by the pandemic.

But if not, this does raise some questions about the need for a mask. If there are to be differences in the afterlife as compared to living in this world, what would these differences be? In the first place, why do some burn stacks of paper money and offerings of papier-mâché cars, clothes and other fine goods at some Taoist and Buddhist funerals as if the deceased continue to have a need for them? Isn’t rather disheartening that even in death there can be no relief from the mundane concerns of existence? For that matter, will there be crime and victims in the afterlife since what would be stopping some from transgressing the laws in order to lay their hands on whatever they desire?  

In contrast, most historic Christian churches believe that Scripture teaches what can be generally described as a two-stage view of life after death that will be radically different from life here on earth. The first stage between death and bodily resurrection is sometimes referred to as the intermediate state. Admittedly, there are differences in opinion as to the nature of our being during this state. Nevertheless, Scripture seems clear that the living will not be able to make a difference to the well-being of the deceased and that God’s people are expected to be in a restful albeit temporary place (Luke 16:19-31).

With regards to the second stage, there is certainly consensus about it being final and unending. This second stage is ushered in through the second coming of Christ where all dead humans will be raised and undergo final judgement. God’s people will be taken to be with Christ in his glorious presence and they will be given new bodies. For them, it is life and fellowship with God, worshipping him in our glorified bodies and reigning with Christ in his everlasting Kingdom. For God’s enemies, it is everlasting separation and judgment (Dan 12:1-2).

For the purposes of this Perspective, I want to just focus on the absence of sin with regards to eternal life in the new heavens and new earth. A closer look at some verses in Revelation offers us some clues about this wonderful truth that sin will no longer remain in eternity future. For example, we learn from Apostle John that there will be a removal of pain and sorrows: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev 21:4). This same verse notes the reason that this would be so is because “the former things have passed away”.

Scholars believe that John was alluding to how the curse of sin that came with the fall of Adam and Eve will no longer be experienced by all of creation in the new heavens and new earth. Indeed, if not for their transgressions, there would not have been all these experiences of death, disease, natural catastrophes and suffering today. This would also explain why in Scriptures, there is always this prophetic hope for the current created order to be restored (Isaiah 65:17) and this idea that creation itself is longing for restoration and liberation from the curse of sin (Romans 8:22-23).

Throughout the New Testament, we also find many passages talking about how through Christ’s death and resurrection, God has sovereignly and graciously removed the penalty and power of sin upon one’s life (Col 2:14-15, Romans 6:5-10). In addition, with Jesus’ return, the presence of sin as well as its effects upon all of creation will be totally eradicated.

Beyond the new imperishable physical body that believers will receive (1 Cor 15:36-49), I trust that we are looking forward even more to the day when we will sin no more in the new heavens and new earth. Indeed, there are sufficient grounds to believe that this is more than just a utopian ideal since Revelation 21:27 states that “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable… but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life”.

Indeed, what a glorious freedom of conscience there will be where in our thoughts and deeds, we will no longer displease our Lord ever again. What a joyous prospect where upon Christ’s return, we will forever be in the presence of the one who loves us and whom we seek to love, being assured that “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

Until that day comes, the wearing of a mask during this pandemic is a reminder that all is not well yet. Indeed, we are mindful that in this fallen world, sin will continue to wreak havoc in different aspects of life. Nevertheless, let us take heart that behind our masks, we can still behold the glory of God and by God’s Spirit are being “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 4:6). Wearing a mask can be a rather inconvenient necessity at this moment. But unlike Moses who needed to veil his face from the Israelites, our masks need not stop us from reflecting Christ’s glory through all that we do and say until the day when masks are no longer needed.

Rev Edwin Wong

Rev Edwin Wong

September 13, 2020