What we can learn from FaceApp’s #OldAge challenge

Aug 01, 2019 | Wesley Huff

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

A couple of weeks ago, a funny thing happened. I logged onto social media one morning to find many of my friends, family, and even celebrities, had all aged decades. My feeds were filled with familiar faces with greyer hair and pronounced wrinkles. And no doubt you recognized this strange phenomenon as well—maybe you even put 30 years onto your own portraits!

The viral craze of the old-age filter on FaceApp brings up some interesting questions: questions about perceived self-image, insecurity, and even concerns about privacy. Nonetheless, there are some interesting issues that the popular trend has brought to the surface about ourselves.

From age to age 

In a culture preoccupied with youth, we’re strongly interested in getting old.

There’s something strangely fascinating about seeing our friends, family members, colleagues, coworkers, and even ourselves, all of a sudden have the appearance of age. We live in a time where physical beauty is seemingly synonymous with youth. We long for decades passed; we chase smoother skin, youthful physical features, and perceived vitality, all concepts placed on a pedestal by our culture. 

Alphaville’s hit song Forever Young may be more than 30 years old, but its chorus of “Forever young, I want to be forever young” is, dare I say, a timeless mantra—repeated, for example, in Guards’ 2013 song Silver Lining: “I wanna live forever, I don’t care”.

In light of this, the inevitability of aging will always be a clear and present reality. Maybe this is why nostalgia creeps into the popular culture more and more. The notoriety of 90s vintage, the 80s setting of Stranger Things, watching reruns of Saturday morning cartoons long cancelled. Even Disney continues to make live-action versions of the animated features I remember watching in theatres as a kid thus playing on my own childhood angst. All of this is catering to our sense of sentimentality towards the past.

But FaceApp’s “Old Age” filter is the opposite of that. It’s a mirror view, not into by-gone decades, but of possible things to come. We’re faced with uncanny examples of our own mortality and human frailty despite our constant efforts to reverse that very process. And despite all the nostalgia, who wouldn’t want to—even for a moment—fast-forward and see how things turn out? The reality is that AI has its limits, and even the best technology can’t truly give us that crystal ball effect.

I once saw an epitaph in a cemetery with an inscription that read: “Reader beware as you pass by, as you are now so once was I. As I am now, so you will be: therefore, prepare to follow me.” That’s a bit chilling. If I’m honest, a part of me is glad those types of macabre reminders are relegated to areas rarely frequented. And yet, there is a reality that we need to keep in mind: we can’t live our lives like we live forever. YOLO may be said as a passing joke or pithy phrase, but it’s not untrue.

James, in his letter to the early church, draws from Ecclesiastes when he reminds the reader: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. You are a mist that appears for a little while and vanishes” (James 1:14). James highlights a jarring thought. Because we don’t want to imagine the clock tick-tocking our existence into oblivion—that’s a reality that is at best unsettling and at worst depressing. Yet for the life of the individual in Christ there is a glimpse of hope: in the face of uncertainty about what is to come we’re reminded that we can entrust our lives—past, present, and future—to the one who is “the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). 

Despite the hype, our bodies are finite

Modern culture has a little bit of a “hot and cold” attitude when it comes to body image. On one hand, we give a lot of credit to our bodies. We emphasize healthy lifestyles, exercise, eating right, and maintaining a positive body image. We expend significant amounts of time, money, and energy at the gym, on beauty products, and even on surgery and bodily enhancements. While much of this has the appearance of affirmation towards our bodies, sometimes I wonder whether it’s actually a candid admission of the opposite. Much of this is a reaction against our bodies, not an assurance of them.

Seemingly at the exact same time, we act as if we can surpass and exceed our bodies: your “true self” is within. “Sure, make-up, hours at the gym, and the right lighting and filters are clearly important—don’t forget about those!” we’re told. All the while we’re informed that it’s about “inner beauty,” “self-actualization,” and “believing in yourself,” somehow despite yourself. This mentality is what Christian author Andy Crouch labels an ideology of the “irrelevance of our bodies,” or how Matthew Lee Anderson, in his work Earthen Vessels: Why our bodies matter to faith, describes the body as “merely raw material to be moulded for the sake of pleasure, a ‘project’, constructed by personal wills.”

And still, there’s nothing like being jarringly forced into confronting a picture of my 50-year-old face to remind me about the reality of being embodied and finite. Don’t get me wrong—as a Christian I believe I am more than just my body—but I am also no less than just my body. Despite the supplements we take, the hours at the gym, the nip and tuck and sculpt and shape, none of it will truly stop us from getting older. We cannot escape the physical createdness of our bodies, nor slow the de-creation factor that the reality of sin and this broken world holds, the factor that slowly counts us down to being worm food.

Keep your fork—the best is yet to come

The virality of FaceApp’s “Old Age” filter is a tacit reminder that our bodies do in fact count. Our bodies are reminders that we are finite, we are imperfect, we recognize our instability and lack of control, and we need restoration. This is capitalized by the Christian worldview—God leaves eternity and enters into the creation in Jesus Christ. The fact that Jesus was incarnated (took on flesh) should capitalize for us that there is a goodness to our bodies that sits alongside our need for restoration and redemption. We are not solely defined by our bodies but, at the same time, our bodies are a category of creation that is part of what defines us. The brokenness of this body can likewise be held in juxtaposition to the fullness of the resurrection body promised.

I’m reminded of a story (true or not, I have no idea) of an elderly woman, sick and close to death’s door. On a visitation by her pastor, she asked him to make sure that she was buried with her fork. Puzzled, the minister asked why.

The woman explained,

“In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say ‘You can keep your fork.’ It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming… like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!

So I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork… the best is yet to come.’ ”

Death is inevitable. We will all feel the hurt of the passing of friends, family, neighbours, coworkers; and one day we will feel the actual unavoidable reality of our own death. Yet unlike the poem on the cemetery headstone to “beware as you pass by,” we can cling to a hope that transcends this reality: the clock is counting down, not to an inevitable demise, but to a promise of renewed vitality. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus declares in John 10:10. We serve, “not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27, Matt. 22:29; 32, Luke 20:38). 

If you have put your faith and trust in Jesus, turning in repentance and belief to him as Lord and Savior of your life, then you can cling to the promise of eternity–that your body will not only be revitalized, but perfected in him. The fascination of phenomena like FaceApp and instantly aging our selfies doesn’t have to be something we outwardly laugh at but inwardly dread. We can hope in Jesus’ promise, “Behold, I am making all things new”!

Keep your fork; the best is yet to come.

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About the Author

Wesley Huff

Wesley Huff was born in Pakistan and spent his childhood in the Middle East. He works, writes and speaks for Ultimate Questions, an apologetics initiative of Power to Change-Students, and is currently a PhD student in New Testament at the UofT. He enjoys canoeing, archery, and cats (although not all three at the same time). Wes lives in Toronto with his wife Melissa and their newborn son.

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