|This is me a couple of years ago: dreads, stretched ears, piercings, and tats.|
I have three tattoos. And I love Jesus.
A number of people have called me a hypocrite over the past week, regarding my latest tat (the one I got with my husband–you can read about it here) because the Bible tells us not to get inked.
This scares me because my biggest fear, as a Jesus-loving sinner, is that I might be a stumbling block for someone. I know I’ve written some hard stuff lately and it’s been painful. I am a people-pleaser, and have lost a lot of followers over the past few months.
But more than the number of followers is the One whom I follow, and I follow a Savior that said hard things. The one that told us to pick up our cross and die. The one who picked up his own cross and died. I love him, and I want to know his resurrection power. I want to know what it is to fear the Almighty God and to walk in the humble shoes of a man that died to himself and for us. A Messiah that lived counter-culturally.
I will be the first to admit I don’t have it all figured out, but I know this: if we surrender to Jesus, if we die to our own desires, if we dare to put our own dreams and theologies aside to accept God’s teachings and his plans, we will live. We will live radically and fully and painfully and brokenly. We will appear foolish to the world. Because God’s wisdom is unapproved by man. God’s plan upsets humankind’s and brings us to our knees.
So I here I go on another challenging topic. Tattoos.
Being an artist, I have always wanted a tattoo. But I haven’t always sensed God’s approval. It wasn’t, however, because of the verse in Leviticus. You see, I believe there are many different rules in the Bible; some are cultural and some are eternal.
Here is the verse I am referring to:
28 “‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19, NIV)
At first it seems pretty straightforward, until you realize that it says “for the dead” and until you consider that getting earrings also constitutes cutting the flesh. Then, when you read the verses around it you find this:
26 “‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.
“‘Do not practice divination or seek omens.
27 “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”
In this passage, Moses is beseeching the Israelites, God’s chosen people, to be set apart: to be holy. And the rules listed consist of a mixture of heart-rules and head-rules. Ones that are meant for a) preserving one’s relationship with God and with man, and b) for preserving cultural cleanliness and order.
The Old Testament commands which carry forward to the New are those that focus on preserving one’s relationship with God and man, rules such as:
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19)
And then there are other rules mixed in with those such as:
“‘Do not mate different kinds of animals.
“‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
“‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Leviticus 19:19)
These, I believe, are cultural. And you are welcome to disagree with me. I am so often very wrong. The Bible is infallible, yes, but we as readers are fallible.
It can all get so messy unless we realize the Spirit behind the Bible: a Spirit that longs for us to be set right with God.
Jesus came to fulfill the rules that preserve our relationship with God and with each other. He came to give us the Holy Spirit so we might not steal, or cheat, or envy one another.
As for marking one’s body on behalf of the dead, or wearing clothing of two kinds of material, or clipping one’s beard, I believe those were intended to keep cultural cleanliness and order.
1 Samuel 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)
Jesus chastises us when we focus too much on the outward appearance:
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23)
As I said earlier, I have always wanted tattoos. But I didn’t always sense the Lord’s approval. And this, dear readers, is what I think God cares about most: us surrendering such decisions to him. If we give our desires to him, he will make our path straight.
Seven years ago, I told the Lord on a morning run that I wanted a tattoo. I wanted it to be of a huge magnolia flower covering my waist. There was no significance to the tattoo other than I had seen it on a friend of mine and thought it looked pretty. At the time, I was shriveled up and dying from a relapse into anorexia.
Over the past decade, I’ve had the privilege of learning to hear Lord’s still small voice. I know some hear him through Scripture, others through dreams. For me, I have conversations with him, most often when I run.
And I heard the Lord distinctly tell me, “No. It will be a source of pride and vanity for you. I do not want you to get a tattoo.”
Then I heard him say, “I am the only one equipped to make the permanent decisions in your life.”
Even though I was trying to die by starving myself, I feared God. And this, what helped me to recover–my belief that I was more than my skin. More than my physical appearance. That I mattered in an eternal kind of way.
Two years later I was weeding my mum’s flower bed. I had flown back home from Korea, where Trent and I were teaching English, to take care of my mum who was sick with brain cancer. I was no longer anorexic and I still wanted a tattoo. I told the Lord this in the garden that day, and I heard, “It’s okay. You can get one. You have been faithful with the small things (obeying him when he told me not to), so now I can trust you with the big things.”
I asked him how I could know it was him talking and not my own desires, and he said that if he provided a house for Trent and I to live in that week, I could trust that it was his voice.
I had scoured the area for a house. I had visited every place that had been advertised and there was nothing. Everything was too small or too expensive. So I knew it would be a miracle if God provided us with a place to live that week.
The next day I was traveling with neighbors to a local organic farm to get vegetables for my parents. I had mentioned to them that we were looking for a house, and the wife turned to me and said, “You should check out the place on Mill Street. My brother was going to buy it but he just decided not to. It’s a private sale so you wouldn’t have heard about it.”
That house–just a few blocks from my parents’–would become our home for the next three years.
When I asked the Lord what my tattoo should be of, I heard him say “Lilies, because they will remind you of how I take care of you.” And when I asked him where, I heard him say “on your wrist, so that you can tell the story often, of how I love you.”
I don’t have all of the answers. I do know, however, that God cares about us. He cares about every decision that we make. We don’t need to be afraid to surrender, because he is not out to get us. He is a good father who wants to bless his children.
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Matthew 23)