In the Christian community, it's not hard to look around and gather opinions about the many bad reasons to get a tattoo. As Crosswalk contributor Molly Parker notes, many are quick to jump to Leviticus 19:28, a law commanding not “mark your skin with tattoos.” Reading the verse in context, however, "reveals that God didn’t want His people practicing the same things as the pagan nations, which included getting tattoos. But God also didn’t want them piercing their bodies and, in verse 27, trimming their beards." Where does that leave us today, then? Exploring the theme of 1 Samuel 17:7, Parker offers nine good reasons to get a tattoo:
"The longer I’ve been a Christian," Parker writes, "the more I’ve seen God’s Word go out in ways beyond my understanding. When my kids were little, they’d ask the craziest questions: 'Can a person come to Jesus after reading John 3:16 on some dude’s muscly arm?' Why, absolutely!"
In Isaiah 55:11, God says of His Word, “I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it," even on the "well-defined arm of a weightlifter," Parker adds.
Nowhere in Scripture (or any reasonable application of it) will you find a commandment that a Christian must only get faith-based tattoos. However, Parker suggests, when the tattoo does "represent the love of God, whether with Scripture or an image, it can be effective at holding the tattooed person accountable. At least that’s the idea...in the same way it doesn’t seem right when a car plastered with Jesus bumper stickers cuts you off, it also doesn’t seem right when a person with a visible cross tattoo gives you the finger."
"I know my husband loves me. I can tell because he likes to eat with me and call me on his way to work. And I’m pretty sure I’m his favorite person to watch TV with. But the day he said, 'I'm thinking about getting a tattoo. And I want it to have your name: Molly,' it somehow reinforced his commitment to me," Parker writes. "...The sentiment brought reassurance just the same, as I imagine sweethearts, daughters, and sons around the world might feel likewise—not to mention all the mothers who’ve inspired the ever popular Mom-inside-a-heart tattoo."
While the social stigma about tattoos still clings in many families and communities, Parker argues that "for all we know, a guy or gal could have gotten their tattoos next door to a preschool... on a Tuesday afternoon… after getting their teeth cleaned."
"But for those who do have a juicy, 'dark alley' story behind their tattoo—one filled with regret, one they’d like to move past—what better way to have their dignity restored than to have a tattooed neighbor, pastor, or co-worker reach out in friendship?" Now, this doesn't necessarily mean everyone should go out and get a tattoo just for the sake of networking, but Parker suggests that "if you’ve got one, God can use it to put people at ease and build solidarity."
"Much like grief, tattoos are highly personal. But unlike grief, tattoos are oftentimes out in the open for all to see," Parker explains. "Memorial tattoos can help people confront their grief when the significance of their loss is displayed. Also, tattoos in remembrance of service to one’s country can create a healthy sister and brotherhood among fellow veterans."
Parker recalls a Christian family camp in the redwoods of California, one where she's gone with her family and experienced "40 years of sweet memories, timeless traditions, meaningful connections, and tender God-moments." While she has no tattoos, Parker thinks if she got one, "it’d be a small redwood tree as a reminder of my roots at camp, the place that grounds me every summer. Then as life runs its course throughout the year, with its highs and lows, I’d have a small tattoo to daily renew my perspective. Much in the same way I’ll stick Bible verses on my mirror or on my fridge to remind me of God’s presence, my little redwood tree would act like a Post-it note for the body."
Here, Parker offers a fantastic reason to get a tattoo: "Just the other week, a friend shared about her niece who was born with Situs Inversus, a congenital condition in which the major visceral organs are reversed. She said doctors are suggesting she get a tattoo on her chest, notifying emergency personnel of her condition, should she ever require immediate care."
Medical uses for tattoos are becoming more common, she says. "There are also radiation tattoos that determine the exact area for treatment, applied to the skin for precise targeting. Sometimes tattoos are needed to replace medical bracelets—and so much more."
"Many people get beautiful tattoos to cover their 'imperfections,' such as scars and burns," Parker adds. "They can act as a confidence-booster, especially at the beach when sporting a bathing suit. But one thing to consider: large scars and burns require even larger tattoos, taking up a sizable portion of skin real estate—so it’s definitely worth thinking through."
Listen up, young people! "Because tattoos and regret often go hand-in-hand, tattoos can also serve as great reminders to make better choices," Parker explains. "If a person is obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles at age 21, they may not be at age 75. And while tattoo removals are becoming more effective, they’re still a little iffy."
Before going in for a tattoo in honor of someone or something you love or respect, take time to pray it through, she suggests. "And if the thought of a loved one tattooing your name onto their bodies gives you the heebie jeebies... it’s too late, for someone already has. Isaiah 48:16 says, 'See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,' revealing that God is all-out committed to you."