Have you ever cut into a bell pepper just to see it staring back at you?
It’s just a vegetable, and yet, there it is, a face! I see eyes and a mouth. The ones in this picture even look to have teeth! It is hardwired into our brain to see faces everywhere in lots of inanimate objects like tools, sinks, and the roof our cars.
Yes, you’re not crazy. This is a natural phenomenon that even has a name and everything. In science it is called facial pareidolia. For many other tasks, our brain has checks and balances to make sure it’s correct, but with this process our brain doesn’t recognize it as a false detection and move on, instead it goes a step further. Our brain doesn’t just recognize a face, it processes that face for emotion. Scientists believe this mechanism evolved as a result of the need to quickly judge whether a person was a friend or foe.
One group put together a study that scanned participants’ brains as they looked at images of gray static. As the participants looked at the image, there was the obvious high activity in the visual cortex, but when the participants thought they could see faces among the static, the scan also showed activity in areas of higher thinking such as memory. It seems that the brain “sees faces” using a kind of template-matching procedure. If it sees an object that appears to have two eyes above a nose above a mouth, then it goes, 'Oh I'm seeing a face.' It's that quick, that easy. Are there two holes above another hole? Close enough, that’s a human face.
This is hardwired into our brains. It’s instantaneous. Yet when we look at real human faces, what do we see? We see age, skin color, weight. I have to wonder, why is it not just as quick and easy for our brains (and our hearts) to see Christ when we look at other humans? We are all made in His image, why don’t we see that when we look at each other?
I don’t have a very good answer to these questions. I simply wish that it was as natural of a mental reaction as seeing faces in an electrical outlet. Our fellow humans are actually the image of Christ much more than this mop actually has human emotion.
Surprising, I know, because that mop’s anger seems palpable. But seriously, this world would be so different if we saw others as Christ, as he tells us to in Matthew 25:31-46.
I say the world, but even just looking at my life specifically, how different it would be if my brain instantly saw the beautiful mystery of Christ in the person next to me instead of my brain wondering if they work at a bank or maybe a law firm. How different my life would be if I saw the image of my Lord and Savior instead of seeing how that guy just cut me off in traffic? How different would my emotions and following actions be?
I don’t foresee our brains magically all gaining this ability anytime soon, so I guess we’ll have to keep doing it the old-fashioned way, but it IS important that we try. Because even if it can be hard to see, that person who just walked past you is made in the image of Christ. The grocer, the neighbor walking their dog, the kid who lives next door, all of them are too. We need to remember this, we need to truly believe this, and we need to act accordingly. The difference of doing this or not, according to Matthew 25, is eternal punishment or eternal life. Seems an easy decision.