To Tat or Not to Tat

Back in 1986 or so (I say that because my memory is good for some things, but not so great for others) I was stationed in New York City. I was a sailor living in the Big Apple, and my home was right off the tip of Manhattan on what was then known as Governor’s Island. When my friends and I were not busy keeping America safe for Democracy, we were running all over the city; from Shea Stadium where the Mets were having a Championship season, to Central Park and even the Village. Being from a small southern town, the experiences of the city were new to me and I wanted to take it all in while I had the opportunity.

On one of our excursions, somehow we ended up at a tattoo-parlor. Most of the guys had a few of them already adorning parts of their bodies as it is considered par for the course when you are a member of a sea-going service - which we were. A few of my ship-mates sat down for an additional tattoo while I surveyed the art work examples on the wall. Some of the designs were really cool and I decided that the time had arrived for me to go ahead and get a tattoo of my own. I wanted a heart on my right bicep, and I was going to have my daughter’s name placed in the middle of it. I waited patiently for my own turn in the chair, with of course my mind being made up already. It was going to be one of the neatest things I had ever done and I was sure everyone back home would be impressed.

Lucky for me, as I look back on that night, the guy in front of me had a problem and he began to bleed profusely. I could also tell that the pain he was feeling during the process was excruciating. I pointed this out to another friend and he tried to explain to me that it was due to the location of the tattoo on his body; my own tattoo would be relatively painless, he assured me. I have a low tolerance for unnecessary pain, and at that moment all thoughts as to the coolness and the perceived envy of those at home went out the door. I balked and got my money back, choosing to stay in the sitting area and absorb the ribbing that was directed my way for the duration of the evening.

I never did get that tattoo and I am thankful of that fact today. I also eschewed piercings of the ears, which were also common during that day and age. However I did grow a mullet (hair style) after I left the service, and the pictures are embarrassing enough when one of them may happen to find its way to the forefront during a search through an ancient photo-album.

But back to tattoos, which is what I am talking about today. Is it right or wrong for a Christian to get a tattoo? There seems to be a lot of debate on the topic these days and there are more questions than answers. But I still want to weigh in with my thoughts on the matter.

Most of those who know their Bibles will immediately bring up the passage in Leviticus 19 where the children of Israel are warned, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” This is enough for me and pretty much provides me with an assured reason never to get a tattoo, or a piercing for that matter. However, a lot of theologians and many preachers also rationalize this verse to relate that the children of Israel were around pagans that used cuttings and markings of their bodies in their worship, and it bears little in regards to us today since those religions are now extinct. We can go round and round with this logic and never find a middle ground, but there is more to consider here.

Sometimes the Bible does not appear to be clear on certain issues, though if you look hard enough I believe that you can find an answer. Everything that we do as Christians should be built around our faith. Paul writes in Romans 14, “…for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” That is blatantly cut and dried to me, despite any and all theological discourse on the subject.

Is the purpose of a tattoo on my body to aid me in glorifying God in some way? Will others have a better chance of seeing Jesus in me if I have ink designs on my arms, legs, or back? Or will those marks and designs be a stumbling block to others who may be turned off by them and as a result damage any part of my testimony I would otherwise be able to share with them?

If the Spirit gives you peace in this area, then it is alright to do what you are led to do. For me it is wrong and not something that could cause my faith to grow or aid me in possibly sharing it with others.

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