I have a tattoo. Perhaps I’ll start there. You know, a sort of “cards on the table” approach, so you know that I have a vested interest in the topic. It’s bright, red, and on the inside of my right forearm. Here’s a picture of it after the outline. Each brick is solid red (though it has faded a bit).
Why did I get it? I get this question a lot, and so I’ve developed a sufficiently short answer (btw if you ever hear me give a short answer to anything, that’s proof that I’ve given it a lot of thought). Anywhoo…I grew up without a father. That resulted in me latching on to every father figure I could find, changing who I was to suit the needs of each one. This training ground created someone who could fairly easily fit in with any crowd necessary, but who had little to no clue how to be himself. Several years back, God dealt with me about that. He’d created me, and my chameleon approach to life was disrespectful to the identity he’d given me. He reminded me of Kindergarten, where I’d draw this tattoo on my arm every day. Then my mom would wash it off when I got home. Then I’d draw it again the next day. This tattoo is the clan marking for the Arashikage ninja clan in G.I. Joe. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow have this tattoo. For as long as I can remember I’ve always thought this was the coolest tattoo in the universe. It’s me. It doesn’t get much more me than this tattoo. Getting it permanently on my body is a consistent reminder that God wants me to be me. If he didn’t, he would have created someone else. That doesn’t mean I don’t need to repent and change, but I repent and change my behavior…not my identity.
I generally caution younger people away from tattoos while they are young. I was almost in my thirties before I got my first tattoo. That means I waited over 25 years for my first tattoo. I knew I wouldn’t regret it. When I was 18 I had plans for a full back tattoo and two full sleeves. I’m very glad I didn’t go through with that plan. Tribal was involved. Don’t judge. It was the ’90s. But just because I caution students against getting tattoos at 18 doesn’t mean that I think they should wait 25 years. Tattoos can be a mistake, but they can also be great. So here are some guidelines I have for Christians who want to get a tattoo.
1.) Be really sure that you want it. That means it is a lengthy process. Plenty of people were “sure” they wanted all sorts of bad things. Tribal tattoos. Mullets. Give your tattoo idea some time. If it’s small and easily hidden or covered up then it doesn’t need as much time. If you are getting a full back piece of David Hasselhoff riding a rainbow colored velociraptor…maybe spend some more time thinking it through. If you pull the trigger on that bad boy, please send me pictures because it sounds amazing.
2.) If you have given yourself time, and you are sure about your idea then process it with some people you trust. This doesn’t mean asking a few friends. This means asking people who are willing to call you out for being an idiot. If you don’t have those people in your life, you need to fix that.
3.) If your tattoo involves a foreign language that you don’t speak, make sure it’s spelled correctly. I can’t tell you how many bad tattoos I’ve seen where the Greek/Hebrew/Latin are not correct. For instance, check out this website. It’s cringe-worthy. A friend sent me a picture of a Hebrew tattoo just yesterday. She wanted to know if her friend’s tattoo was correct. I didn’t have good news for her. See, sometimes when you cut/paste Hebrew from a website into a Word doc the words get jumbled or misspelled. So a tattoo that was meant to be Psalms 139:23: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts”; ended up saying “My thoughts repeat (nonexistent word) getting a mind, repeat not (nonexistent word).”
Tattoos are not for everyone. But neither is marriage (1st Corinthians 7:8). When deciding on a tattoo we need time and good counsel, just like any other decision. Just because all things are now lawful does not mean that all those things are also profitable (1st Corinthians 6:12, 10:23). Since tattoos are forever (take that Sean Connery!), we ought to make sure that they are indeed profitable for us.