I was flipping through a parenting magazine early this year when I came across the startling news: if I wanted to look as smooth-faced as the publication’s beauty editor, I should have started regular Botox injections in my early 20s.
Aging is something to be avoided at all costs, the article implied. It can and therefore should be prevented.
As a mother of three rounding the bend of my mid-30s, I don’t need help noticing the ways my face and frame are changing over time. But as a Christian striving to fix my eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen” (2 Cor. 4:18, NIV), I need to regularly reexamine the stories running through my mind.
Often, we pick up narratives about what we should look like—and what we should be doing about it—from articles, offhand comments, and those insidious ad algorithms. Are these the messages we really want to have washing over us as we wash our faces each night? Surely the gospel has a better word to speak, even over our wrinkles.
Reminders on Our Faces
The $500 billion beauty industry may see these multiplying creases as flaws to be corrected. But what if wrinkles—these markers of the passage of time—aren’t something simply to be erased but are meant to remind?
What if wrinkles—these markers of the passage of time—aren’t something simply to be erased but are meant to remind?
The filtered faces of social media influencers make the false narrative of our own agelessness that much more ubiquitous and, for a price, almost attainable. Many of us are still battling acne when age-defying serums and face yoga subscriptions start splashing across the pages we scroll. But the minute we aim for it, the target of ageless beauty moves just out of reach again.
Even the Botox article acknowledged the “perception drift” that causes us to tolerate fewer and fewer imperfections. “When we’re exposed to a lot of over-manipulated images,” the beauty editor wrote, “it skews what we perceive as attractive.” (And can lead to going “overboard” on the muscle-paralyzing injections, the editor warned.)
We readily acknowledge the effect such images have on teens and young women. As men and women of other ages and stages, could we be swimming in different sections of the same waters?
A week after I read the Botox article, I attended my first Ash Wednesday service at a historic church near our own. Amid writing a book about losing loved ones, I wanted a tangible way to consider the fragility of life. I didn’t expect it to influence my skincare routine.
But every time I looked in the mirror that day, the charcoal-colored smear surprised me. Emblazoned across my forehead, it was an antidote to the cultural messages constantly washing over women of my age. Rather than telling me to erase any fine lines, it reminded me to pay attention to the passage of time.
Redemption of Our Flesh
Ashes or not, your wrinkles and mine whisper of a dawning reality: This skin we’re in is wearing out. We will not live forever. Aging and death are twin names for the same insurmountable problem: “For you are dust,” the curse for sin spoke over humanity, “and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
As we see the signs of aging, we cry out all the more with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And we hear afresh the Bible’s answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24–25).
God’s answer to the problem of death and aging was to take the full weight of sin upon himself. The very God through whom “all things were made” (John 1:3) robed himself in frail humanity and came down to earth as Emmanuel, God with skin on.
In this way, Christ’s embodiment lights the way for the redemption of our own flesh. When we spot the wear-and-tear in the mirror, we can let it remind us this body will not last forever. And like the Israelites feeling the fatal sting of the serpents’ bites, we can look to the One who was hung for us, and live (Num. 21:4–9). When we’re tempted to focus only on our physical flaws, we can instead “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2, BSB).
Being embodied allowed Jesus to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Living the perfect life, which only he could do, made his body the spotless sacrifice for the sins of us all (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Even if we prevented and erased every wrinkle on our faces, it’d do nothing to stave off our terminal condition before a holy God. That’s a work only God can do.
Hope in a Firm Foundation
“Ultimately, the pains and struggles that we experience in our bodies are not a sign that our bodies have no value,” writes Sam Allberry in What God Has to Say about Our Bodies, “but that God hasn’t finished with them yet.”
As Christians we believe our skin is not just throwaway packaging for our souls; these bodies are part of the whole of us that will find full consummation in eternity. What we think about the face in the mirror—and about the God who made it and made a way for its redemption—has immense spiritual implications.
Be careful not to put your hope in restoring the surface of a body only Christ can truly redeem.
These bodies and our lives in them have expiration dates. We’re to steward them as the good gifts they are. If that means pulling back some corners of the curse with a little wrinkle cream—apply away. But be careful not to put your hope in restoring the surface of a body only Christ can truly redeem. In the end, skin that isn’t as elastic as it used to be is not an indictment of our self-care. It’s a signpost to somewhere.
Aging points us away from trusting entirely in our own frames and abilities. It directs us, instead, to an incarnate Savior who made a way for our temporary reality to be swallowed up by his victory over the gravity of death. When our skin sags and wrinkles, we’re reminded again to fix our hope to this firmer foundation.
Whitney K. Pipkin