Content & Images © 2008-2014 - Rachel Miller, Ink Road Originals LLC, All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 11, 2011

Saving Face vs. Saving Grace

Have you ever heard of the socio-linguistic concept called face?  Today, I want to briefly talk about it--what it is, who has it, and how it can affect religion.  This discussion may sound really academic and abstract at first, but please bear with me.  I'll try to get past all the fancy names and get down to the basics, because I think it's a big issue for modern Christians.  Curious?

Defining Face: You Totally Knew This Already

Everyone has a face.  You know, that area on the front of your skull where your eyes, nose, and mouth are.  Everyone also has some concept of face, an academic term used to describe a person's public, social image.  More specifically, it describes the positive or negative perception of an individual, and can include perceptions of people associated with that individual.  Insults are counted as negative face statements, whereas compliments are positive face statements

People more often associate saving face, a person's attempt to right a negative perception of himself or herself, with Asian cultures, but this is wrong.  People the world over hate it when someone says something that makes them "look bad," and that's just what face is.  Most people spend a large portion of their lives trying to make their public image seem more attractive, wise, clever, strong, tough, etc.  Some people have even killed themselves because they felt there was no other way to improve their face.  This is no laughing matter, especially for teens and younger adults, and it affects all of us.

The Problem with Face

The biggest problem with face is that it is such a changeable concept, subject to the whim of peers and the public.  Although it deeply affects us, from our employment standing to our marriage opportunities, there is often little we can do to control it.  Worse still is our ability to sabotage it in an instant, sometimes without repair, with one bad or impulsive decision.

I think face is a huge cause of human conflict in this world, if all things were counted; in fact, it may even be the biggest cause.  Even money (the ownership of it, or the lack there of) comes into play here, and we know what Paul said about that (1 Timothy 6: 9-10).  It is a big, ugly thing, because it skews our perception of what is important.

Face gives human beings godlike qualities.  Individuals are driven by their desire to be thought of as better, bigger, and more powerful than others.  They want to come out on top, or at least closer to the top, where the people they most admire currently reside.  When something topples one of those "greats," it somehow moves them up in the rankings.  When someone harms their face, their power to strike back is only limited by their fears that too much retaliation might make their face look worse.  In the end, this godhood is a very fickle and transient honor, and it can lead to bitterness, even in the most successful people.  Who wants to be a god, especially when it is all a lie, anyway?

Saving Face versus Saving Grace

Most people would agree that it is better by far to be loved, despite our flaws, than to be loved for being flawless.  We are more comfortable being people, rather than gods.  Truth be told, a lot of people (maybe everyone) would rather let someone else be perfect.

This is a step in the right direction, but it's not all the way there.  If the only change in people is that they gave up caring about what other people think, it's called rebellion. In the end, those people are still holding on to a face concept of themselves, only they created it in their own minds.  These people view everything they do as having a positive reflection on that face; if it is negative, it is quickly forgiven.   They are never quite comfortable this way, however, because in their most lucid moments, they fear they have become rather delusional.

Now, here's where the concept of face gets tough for a lot of people, especially a lot of modern Christians.  When people stop caring about what people think, they have to start caring about what God thinks.  It's called obedience.  Becoming a Christian is the opposite of saving face, because when we decide to care what God thinks, we realize that God sees all of our sins, and all of our flaws, and has labeled them as bad.  In fact, so terribly bad that they make us unworthy of His presence.  It is a withering experience.

Now what person would voluntarily submit to being called a worm, a fool, or a failure?  Well, I have to think a realistic person.  We reject flaws in others, and even deem some flawed people as beneath us.  So if God comes along, a person Who is higher and more perfect than all of us, and He looks at us and says, "Eew, gross," can we reasonably say that He doesn't have the right to say that?  Could we follow a God who was less perfect than us, and therefore subject to our criticism?  I think not.

Let's not defend face.  It's hollow, and falls apart easily.  It is much better to defend what is true, so it can never be shaken from its place.  Truth is so solid, no one can ever "uncover the truth" about it.  There is no dirt that can be dug up about it, and nothing that can ruin it.  If there is anything in the world that I would want to cling to when everything is shaken, it's the truth.

So the truth is that we are all bad people, full of weakness (Romans 3:23).  There wouldn't be any hope for us, if it wasn't for God's mercy (Lamentations 3: 21-24).  Even though God looked down on a bunch of worms and thought, "Eew, gross,"  He had mercy and still wanted keep us around.   He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to make right what was wrong with us, so that even these worms can become something worthy of His presence.

Jesus took on the penalty--total rejection from God--so that we no longer have that in our futures.  Let me restate that.  Jesus lost face with God, so that we could gain face with God.  Now, when we care what God thinks of us, and we have received what Jesus gave us, we can think of ourselves realistically.  None of our own good deeds can eradicate the past or improve God's perception of it, i.e., improve our face with God, but with Jesus' sacrifice, we can live, that is, have God's approval, despite our record.

We have hope because we are free from the chains of face saving, and can just rest in the security of the truth, that is, obedience to God.  Obedience is worth our time, because it is pleasing to God, and doesn't lower His perception of us any farther.  Why is there hope in this?  If we hope in the Lord, the only One Who knows what we are, He will honor us.  Isn't that what we've always wanted?
When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  --Luke 14: 8-11 NIV 2010