Chris’s eyebrows furrowed and his lips pursed as he walked into the kitchen. “Momma, I’m a 16-year-old man now and I’ve made my own decision. I got a tattoo.” A blood dot had soaked through the gauze bandage on the forearm he swung in front of his mother.
“You did what? A tattoo? Why?” Her eyes widened as she shook her head. “I wish you’d come and talked to me about it first.” Her head hung low as she looked down toward the floor.
His voice now had a slight edge to it. “Momma, all the kids have one and without one I look like a poser or jerk. I’m starting to make my own decisions now. Besides, I know you would have said ‘no’.”
“You don’t know that.” Momma said as she shifted her weight from foot to foot, then leaned her side against the kitchen counter. “I just would have shown you my tattoos.”
Chris closed one eye, peering at his mother. “What tattoos? Momma, you don’t have any tattoos… unless you’ve been hiding them from me. I don’t believe you.”
“Oh, you can believe me.” she continued, “I have dozens of tattoos. The permanent kind. They never go away.”
“This isn’t a joke, Momma. I’ve got major pressure on the street to fit in with the other guys. Go ahead…show me your tattoos.”
Momma leaned in, pulled up her sleeve, and exposed her right forearm. “See this tattoo? I got this tattoo when me and some friends drove drunk and hit a tree when I was 15. The car was totaled.”
Chris squinted closely, but saw no tattoo on her arm. “Momma, I don’t see any tattoo. You kidding me?” He put his hand to his face, thinking maybe her tattoo had faded over time.
Momma pulled up her other sleeve. “Here is another tattoo I got. I got this tattoo when I decided to try some drugs at a party. I was in the hospital for two days. I almost died!”
Chris rolled his eyes. “Momma, you do not have any tattoos. What are were talking here? You’re putting me on!”
Momma smiled, looked up, and cocked her head. “No, I am not putting you on. It’s just that my tattoos are invisible. I’ve got what you’d call ‘invisible tattoos.’”
Chris squinted and clenched his jaw muscles. “There’s no such thing as an ‘invisible tattoo!’ Why are we playing this game, Momma?”
Momma’s voice was now low, soft, and gentle…the kind of voice a parent gets when they want to give parental advice. Her words were delivered with loving care. “The things I told you I did or what happened to me? They happened long, long ago but I still remember them…they’re permanent on me. Just like an ‘invisible tattoo’.”
Momma’s voice got even lower and softer. “And you know what? These things that happened still bother me and never go away. Although my decisions took only a second or minute or a bit longer, I have permanent reminders on my mind and soul. These are my ‘invisible tattoos.’”
Chris stood listening… intently putting together what Momma was saying. Momma added a final comment. “My invisible tattoos are no different from your tattoo. I made quick decision without thinking that impacted the rest of my life. All I ask is that you spend some time thinking about what you’re doing and how over time it may impact your life.” Momma clearly wanted her son to know that we should not make quick decisions that can have permanent results.
Surprisingly, one of the most common questions people ask me (as someone in seminary) is “Are tattoos okay? Is it all right to have tattoos as a Christian?”
Scripture provides guidance on all aspects of Christian life. Old Testament Law instructed the Israelites, “And you shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am Yahweh” (Leviticus 19:28). That being said, today’s Christians are not under Old Testament Law. However, if we note there was an Old Testament command against tattoos it makes us question the activity. The New Testament does not address whether or not a Christian should get a tattoo. So where do we go from here?
A useful “discipleship discipline” test is to determine whether we can with honesty, and in good conscience, ask God to bless and use any activity of ours for His own good purpose.
“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.
The New Testament does not command against tattoos or body piercings. Conversely, the New Testament also does not give Christians any reason to believe God would want us to get tattoos or body piercings. Again, so where to we go from here?
Well, we’ve heard Momma’s wisdom… we now know we shouldn’t make quick decisions that create permanent results. But how do we tackle life questions that Scripture does not specifically address? Here’s the test: Ask yourself, “Is there reason to believe my decision would please God?” If the answer is “no”, then it is best not to engage in that activity. Discernment is being able to tell what is good from what is bad. As Christians considering getting a tattoo or making any other significant life decision, we are to pray for wisdom (James 1:5) and ask God to provide pure motives and help us with discernment (Proverbs 4:25-27). Exercising discernment requires that we include God and the Holy Spirit in our decision-making.
The Apostle Paul told us that anything that does not arise from faith in God is sin:
“But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23)
We remember that our physical bodies, as well as our souls, are redeemed through Christ and belong to God. If our bodies belong to God, we should consult with our parents, our pastor, and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit before we apply tattoos or body piercings or making any other choice permanently affecting our lives.
As a pastor-in-training, I work to turn people’s attention to what lessons we can learn from Scripture. We have to keep our eyes on Christ. I tell them, I have “invisible tattoos.” Just like you may have permanent ink tattoos that symbolize temporary feelings or interests in your life, I have “invisible tattoos” which are permanent feelings and impressions I have from things that either I’ve done in my life. There are many things I’ve said or done decades ago that still bother me today. These are my invisible tattoos… permanent feelings on my Spirit from a bad choice, action, or decision I made
Do you have any “invisible tattoos”? If so look to Christ, He can remove them and keep you from adding more “invisible tattoos”.