I have a confession- I do not like tattoos. I know this is a taboo in our society as people see tattoos as an extension of who they are, but that is simply my preference. I wasn't always this way, however. From the age of about 14-21, I really wanted three tattoos. I had planned out their locations on my body along with about five piercings. By the age of 20, I had three piercings and was salivating for the day when I could afford my first tattoo. My mother, not liking my plan, tried to convince me otherwise. For some reason, that only made me want them more.
Then the opportunity came thanks to our student loan system. Now I had the means to go with the misguided priorities and ignorance to get my first tattoo. I was just waiting for my over-payment check (I purposely took out more than I needed in loans and at that time schools would give thousands of dollars to kids). Then, in a move that was pure genius though I mistook it for wishful thinking, my mom begged me to make a deal with her. Her deal was to wait until I was 25 to do any more alterations to my body, just to give my brain a fighting chance to fully develop. Fully develop? That's insulting! Now driven by pride, joy in the thought of proving my mom wrong, and maybe a little wanting to pay for rent and food, I took the deal.
By the time I turned 23 I didn't want a tattoo anymore. I am not saying all this wanting you to infer that there is some deficiency of maturity or understanding that correlates to getting tattoos, because there is not. My point is, people are fickle with ever-changing preferences, motives, and levels of understanding. I will admit my reasoning at that time was a bit of religious legalism mixed with my natural high self-esteem (I have always thought I am awesome...even when I was not). At that time I had just begun to take God’s will seriously when it came to my choices in life. I read what many refer to in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) about markings on the body and that made me begin to question getting a tattoo. (I would still be getting one at this point, it was just going to be more God-centered) As I studied Scripture more, my self-awesome awareness somehow latched onto the thought that God did a good job in making me and there was no need to attempt improvements on His artwork. It was this thought that swayed me more than anything from wanting tattoos, for a while.
In the grand scheme of things, I am confident tattoos have absolutely no correlation with God's love for us. What about what is written in the Torah section of the Old Testament?, you ask, Specifically, Leviticus 19:28? To properly address that specific Scripture we have to take a few steps back so that our view is in line with intent. There are many ways to approach the Word of God. There are those who see the Bible as simply being filled with dos and don’ts. They view it as a list of rules for us to keep, mostly by our own strength. This will lead a person to read it devoid of true understanding and blind to God’s intent. But rather, all of the Bible is written in light of relationship and, simply, the heart of God. When something seems to be baseless and doesn't make much sense to the modern reader, it is proper to simply ask, “why?” Now to the person who still believes this is merely a collection of ancient books that has no divine attributes, what their minds can imagine can be seen on the History Channel. What I mean is to bring the view of an all-knowledgeable God with an eternal perspective to all of life into the reading and ask why? Ask why, in light of all the Scripture that demonstrates various parts of the heart of God, did He say this or command that? Depending on the intent of the reader's heart, this still can lead down dark corridors of their heart, but ironically that helps build upon my point. God judges motives more than He judges the action. This is precisely why God is the perfect judge because He doesn’t simply judge the actions or their consequences, but judges the intent of the heart. If a person's motives were pure, God judges accordingly. There are some actions in Scripture, though, that the action itself is a reflection of impure motives of the heart and those are usually spoken of with phrases like “God detests” or “God abhors”.
What does all this have to do with tattoos? Gather together Leviticus 19:28, the Scripture surrounding it, and additional resources and we can understand why God makes this statement. God didn't want the Israelites to adopt the practices of the nations around them, especially their practices of idol worship. Cutting their hair to look like idol gods, cutting their flesh for the dead, and making marks on the body were forbidden in light of the surrounding cultures’ practices. One may object and state, “I thought God is supposed to be never changing, how does this work?” God is never changing, but our relationship with the never changing God has drastically changed since the writing of Leviticus. When we speak of the Old Testament and New Testament we are referring to a covenant or contract. There is the Old Contract and the New Deal, if you will. Under the Old Contract there were terms and conditions spelled out for the nation of Israel in order to be allowed to dwell in the land and experience the benefits of being God’s chosen people.
It was understood among all the people that this contract was not God’s Will, but a way to keep a people connected with the God of the universe by some means. Under this agreement they were allowed to have a temple or tabernacle in their midst where one person, after various steps and sacrifices, could enter into the inner chamber called the Holy of Holies one time per year to atone for the whole population of people. ‘Atone’ is a term that means simply to temporarily cover the penalty for their falling short of God’s purpose for all mankind. The key point to notice is even after the people tried to follow the contract they still fell short of the terms and needed another person to provide a temporary solution to the breach of contract. The whole system was a temporary patch job to hold them over until the Savior came.
The Old Contract assumes something bad happened between the creation of mankind and the implementation of this contract. It pointed to the need for justice for whatever happened and assumes that something was missing for justice to be satisfied. People, being the crown jewel of creation and being made in the image of God, had nothing of equal value that could act as payment for both the initial and the ongoing injustice. Nothing on earth could fill the void that was created when we decided to turn away from God. You see, we have a perfect and holy God who made us for intimacy with Himself, intimacy that is so intertwined that we are almost one, us in Him and He in us. That bond was broken and our imperfect condition caused a rift in the intimacy God desires. Mankind intimately bearing God’s image (God in us and us in Him), our default setting and God's Will, is the just payment. The contract was created so that God could be in the midst of His love to woo her from a distance and remind her of time that once was and is yet to come.
God, knowing mankind's susceptibility to being deceived without the intimacy with Him who is Truth itself, put safeguards within the contract. He knows He made us to be experiential people and the ritualistic practices of false religions would be enticing what with the cutting of flesh and marking of the skin. God knew He made mankind for community and we have a natural yearning to feel accepted and part of something bigger than ourselves. The draw of cultural rituals and markings that signify acceptance would be tempting, and would further separate the people from being God’s own. Following basic logic, if a people worship other gods, that would fall under the “not acting as God’s chosen people” clause of the contract.
God Himself sent His one and only son, Jesus, to save us from our imperfect state. Jesus became that perfect representative we needed but could not find in all of creation. He was the first and only human to obey the contract completely. He was tested in the same manner as God's original creation, but clung to the Word of God over all else. He became the temple of God's intimate presence as God had intended from the beginning. It is then that Jesus became the perfect and just payment for what was lost. There was now no need for the old patch work job, we now had full payment for our transgressions in Jesus the Christ. Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, gave Himself so that all mankind could be reunited with the intimacy we were created for. Now all who identify with Jesus' sacrifice and allow God to be their one and only can become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and of God. We do not need blanket safeguards due to cold formality and distance. We have the Spirit of God to guide us and the community of like-minded people who are walking in the same light we are. The New Deal is intimacy with the Creator. We who are in Christ have Christ in us and God with us everywhere we go. We do not fear the darkness which is the residue of death due to separation from God, but have become light that overcomes darkness and death.
In the new covenant, we are not defiled by what we do to our bodies or by what we eat, but by the motives of our heart. It is when we lose sight of who we are in Christ and live as if we are products of this world that we are defiled. So are tattoos bad? It depends on the intent of the tattoo. The good news is even if motives are bad, the blood of Christ can turn it into a testimony of where God brought us from. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is the New deal. Now I will take this time to say my wife has three tattoos and she is the most beautiful person in the world in my eyes. I would be devastated if she felt that removing one of her tattoos would make me love her any more than I do. This is as it is with Christ and we who are His church and bride.
There is a lady I met some years ago who had had a troubled past of promiscuous behavior and various addictions. On her hands she has ‘Jesus Christ’ tattooed. Her motivation behind these tattoos was to be a public declaration to whom she belongs. At any time, if her hands are about to do something that is contrary to the love of God she is reminded of God’s love for her and her freedom in Christ. Her tattoos are so beautiful to me that I once again contemplated getting tattoos for a season. She freely shares her story of where God brought her from and she is absolutely beautiful in the eyes of God and I hope to be able to share her inspiring testimony of what God redeemed her from as a future post. She married a great and Godly man a few years ago and recently had her second child. The light that comes from that family is inspiring and a testament to the new deal we have in Christ Jesus.
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39 NLT)
God is raising up a generation of the tattooed, scarred, bruised, and rejected to demonstrate what holiness is. The light of God’s glory will overwhelm all preferences and differences that once led to prejudices and stereotypes and Love will be all that remains.