‘Til We Have Faces

face-transplantFor many terribly sick people, organ transplant is their only hope.  When any organ fails, it compromises the other systems connected to it which leads to a deeper health decline. That’s why there is so much emphasis on increasing the number of people on organ donation lists and the funding for transplant research.

I guess Michael Debakey and his team developed the first widely-practiced organ transplant with the heart. Now, forty years later we have transplants of kidneys, livers, corneas, lungs, and even hands or feet. But the most remarkable organ transplant of all has only come to light in the past year: a face transplant. 

            Late last fall, a transplant team at the Cleveland Clinic, led by Dr. Maria Siemionow, performed the first face transplant in the United States.  They replaced almost the entire face of a woman who had experienced trauma that resulted in facial disfigurement so severe she could not breathe or eat on her own without a hole in her windpipe. She was often called names and children ran away from her. She basically had no life or ability to deal with the world.

            Prior to the operation, there was a difficult series of psychological tests with weird questions about one’s motive for the transplant and how you might feel about walking around with a cadaver face for the rest of your life. A series of anti-rejection drugs was begun weeks prior to the operation.

The 23-hour operation was astonishingly complex.  The doctors “had to integrate functional components like a nose and lower eyelids, as well as different tissue types, including skin, muscles, bony structures, arteries, veins and nerves. About 77 square inches of tissue were transplanted from the donor.”  The only parts of her original face remaining were her forehead, upper eyelids, lower teeth and jaw.

Attaching the face is just the first part of a very long journey. There are more medicines. More psychology.  “The woman is eventually expected to eat, speak and breathe normally and even smell again…. Feeling should return to her face in six months, and most facial functions in about a year, leading to her ability to smile after physical therapy to help train the muscles for that function.”

In other words a new face is a lot of work. But it is worth it because as one of the therapists who worked with her observed, “You have to have a face to face the world.”


Sin is a soul trauma that disfigures us from the inside out.  Self-will and self-centered delusions distort everything: our relationships, our motivations, our speech, our families, our politics, our spending, our emotions.  Everything.  It affects the “face” we present to the world, which can be lacking in compassion, love, wisdom, perspective and even joy. Even more troubling, it distorts the face we present to a holy God, who is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong.” (Hab.1:13) The face of our soul is so disfigured that we look nothing like the person He created to share His delight and spread His glory.  Every breath we take is an astonishing mercy from our Creator

. How can we ever change the face we present to the world and to our God?  It takes a lot of work by a surgeon–our great Physician, Jesus.

It is an astonishingly complex operation to renew a soul.  Borrowed cadaver pieces won’t touch the soul’s brokenness; only Jesus’ dead, broken body and spilled blood can bring such healing. Onlly forgiveness by His substitution. His gospel  is our only hope. 

This change doesn’t take a day of exhaustive labor.  It doesn’t even take excruciating hours of torture on a Roman cross.  It is en eternal work, for “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Eph.1:4) His gospel is our only hope.

You see, it’s not just replacement or remodeling or renewing a soul.  “When anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” (2 Cor.5:17) It’s Jesus taking us back to Eden and enabling us to start life all over again—a life that will never end.  His gospel is our only hope.

It is nothing less than a miracle that happens to you and me and all who repent and place faith in Christ.  We get a new face for our soul… a face of glory.       

“ if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?… when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed…. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit….” (2 Cor.3:7-8, 16,18

Yes, “you have to have a face to face the world.” And you have to have a face to face your Creator-King.  The muscles of your soul-face don’t need therapy to work. So if you know Him, go ahead and smile for joy—the smile that will be on your face for eternity.


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