In the heart of the Penn Quarter section of Washington, D.C near Chinatown sits one of the gems of the Smithsonian—the National Portrait Gallery.
It doesn’t gather crowds quite like the Verizon Center across the street where the NBA’s Wizards play, and it doesn’t get top billing like the Air and Space or Natural History museums on the Mall. But the National Portrait Gallery is fascinating.
If you enter the F street entrance, hang a right, and head toward the end of the hall, you’ll find the American Origins collection—portraits of American leaders that include inventors, explorers, politicians, and even pastors. You’ll find the likenesses of William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, Henry Clay, Daniel Boone, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln and his socially awkward wife, Mary Todd. And so far, I’ve only named portraits with some connection to Kentucky. Once you’ve had your history bug satisfied, you can head upstairs to the third floor Mezzanine where you’ll find the Champions and Bravo! exhibitions depicting American athletes and the stars of film and television. The portrait gallery is for anyone who loves people watching, because it allows you to watch people through time.
Writing about the gallery makes me want to go back. Being in a room full of faces gives me a sense of what I have in common with all humanity. You see our family resemblance in every portrait—two eyes, a nose, the varying yet familiar expressions of a human face. We are one. Yet we’re so different. The gallery contains pictures of human failure. And it holds the portraits of men and women of strength. Why are we so fascinated with faces?
Maybe it's because God created faces so that we can see beyond them. In Genesis 1:26, God declared, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness..." Those two words... likeness and image... teach us something really important.
Every face we see is a window through which we can see the face of God.
That seems like something corny you'd put on your bathroom wall, but it's true. God is our Father. He has placed his divine image in all of us. In the view of the psalmist, there has never been a time in any human life when God's hand hasn't been present. "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed" (Psalm 139:13-14, 16).
Megan often reminds me that I have a tendency to define a person's value in terms of their productivity and ability. I struggle to be drawn to people when they aren't performing well. But God, by grace, doesn't value us by our performance. He loves humanity simply because we are his. And he has created each person specifically to represent him in some way. It's a dangerous trap that I can fall into as a minister--valuing ministry efficiency over the image-bearers God puts in my path. But God is glorified by each life He creates. So, when we're with people, let's watch for God's face in them.
When you look at the people around you, do you look to see evidence of God's work in their lives?
Do you believe that he has a purpose for your kids, your friends, your enemies?
Are you fascinated with finding his face in the faces you see every day?