For about 20 years I have been considering getting a tattoo. I began sketching ideas out when I was in college. I ran across these recently in fact, tucked into one of my songwriting journals. The designs center mostly around music, punk rock and rebellion. I look at these designs now and am happy that God embued in me some sense of discernment even though I was not even aware of it at the time. When I look back upon what stayed my hand for so long in getting the tattoo I can point to several things…dissatisfaction with the images I was considering, the promise of pain, fear of needles…but about 5 years ago I got a deeper clue into this. I was still pining for a tattoo and beginning, once again to seek out an image with which I was comfortable marrying to my body.
Someone challenged me at that point to consider whether or not “Christians” should tattoo their bodies. The verse they tossed out was this one;
“You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:28 — New American Standard
This, at first blush seems pretty convincing until you look at the context of the passage. God is speaking about His chosen people behaving as the heathens behaved, marking themselves in religious ceremonies. Since I consider myself under the New Covenant rather than the Abrahamic Covenant I’d have to say that I am not sure this passage, applied literally, is a convincing reason for me to avoid tattoos.
That being said, this discussion with my friend actually ignited something in me. The WHY became the real question. Why did I want a tattoo? Was it so that I could look cool? So that I could shock someone? Was the tattoo for me or for someone else? Why? What does it mean to me?
I remember the day I realized what it was, the moment I understood my “why”….my heart, actually still leaps when I think about my reasons for choosing to do this. I think about the apostle Paul who wrote in his second letter to Timothy:
“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth” 2 Timothy 2:23-25
I was taken with the idea of the bondservant. Paul refers to himself as the bondservant many times in the New Testament. This is how the bondservant is explained in the book of Exodus:
“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. “If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him. “If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. “But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ “then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.” Exodus 21:1-6
To be a bondservant of God as I understand it and as Paul uses the term means that we are given the CHOICE to go free. We are offered the chance to do what we like to go where we will and yet…we choose, rather to stay. I love my master, I will not go free. The bond servant is then “marked” to show that he is a free man who chooses to stay with a master he loves.
Many times in my faith I have been given the chance to “go free.” Each time, I’ve looked around and breathed in the air around me. I have waited and watched and each time I have turned around and chosen to be the bondservant of God. This in mind, I found my “why.”
I considered myself, already a bondservant of the Lord and now, I was choosing to mark myself in that way. God is already written in my spirit and now He becomes written in my flesh as well.
Now, the next question I get about this…what if I change my mind later? To this I say that I have been considering this for nigh on 20 years. I’ve chosen the design very carefully. I know the “why” and I cannot imagine what would have to occur for that “why” to no longer become true. I cannot imagine waking up one day after living this closely to my Creator and seeking after Him with my broken spirit over the last 30 something years and thinking, “you know, this whole Jesus thing looks to be a hoax, how could I have been so silly.”
I guess that is a possibility. But I kind of look at my commitment to Christ in the same way I look at my commitment to my marriage. When we were engaged Dave asked me what I thought of divorce. Well, my parents are divorced so I guess I thought, “hey, if it’s not working out that’s an option….” but he asked something of me. Could I commit to a “no divorce” marriage? It kind of blew me away. I was like, “yes…yes, I can…and I want to!” To be honest, I hadn’t actually considered that an option before!
I had a single friend at the time who didn’t think that was possible. He said that there was NO WAY we could make that commitment. And in some ways he was right, we cannot guarantee anything, we have no control over so many things, lots could change. But the promise that we made on the day we got married was that we commited to marry the person before us and the person we each would become for better or for worse.
That being said, if Dave starts chasing me around the house with a butcher knife we’ll have to make some adjustments! Obviously he will have broken the agreement (love, honor, cherish!) And I am not advocating that people whose marriages (or any relationship) have become abusive should just stick it out no matter what, I’m just saying this is the agreement we’ve made in our marriage.
Now if I take this same attitude toward my commitment to Christ and apply it (which I do) I have this great thing that happens. God doesn’t change. He doesn’t become abusive, He doesn’t drink too much, He doesn’t have the vices or problems of humans so the unstable variable in our relationship is me.
Now here is the REAL consideration…when I’m 103 and in the hands of skilled nursing professionals at the nursing home are they going to snicker at the old lady with the tattoo on her back?
Oh, what do I care? I’ll be happily humming “Be thou my vision” and smiling like a nut.