I have tattoos.
I was 16 when I got my first tattoo, one of 90s comic strip juggernaut Calvin and Hobbes. The spirit that the creative young boy and his sidekick imaginary tiger resonated with the collegiate me. To date, there has never been a comic strip that has communicated the many questions that life can bring up, and deal with the myriad answers with which one can come up to answer, than Calvin and Hobbes. It was a brilliant strip, and one that has played a significant role in my life. It would be the first of three Calvin and Hobbes tattoos I would go on to get.
On August 17, 2001, I welcomed Jesus Christ into my life. In the course of my Christian life, I’ve gotten flak for having these tattoos. “Christians shouldn’t have tattoos,” they say, then they bring up Leviticus 19:28, which says, “do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.” (You can imagine their thoughts, specifically, about the ankh, which came after a dalliance with Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman.)
Now, I am thankful to people who bring up Leviticus. I believe they are dedicated to and have a heart for God and His Word, the Bible. They are passionate about the Old Testament law because it gives them a great foundation from which to please God.
Which brings me to the New Testament. The author of Hebrews writes, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.“
This verse tells us that God speaks to us through Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment and embodiment of Old Testament prophecy and the only bridge to God. Without and apart from Christ, we literally have no connection to God. The Old Testament laws worked for a time when God spoke to His people through the prophets; I am more inclined, however, to follow what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, says.
Now, what does Christ–and Paul, whose letters comprise the majority of the books of the New Testament apart from the gospels, have to say about tattoos?
Surprisingly little. Actually, nothing. Here’s what I know Christ wants me to do.
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus tells me that I am called to love. :) He also tells me in Matthew 28:19:
“19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.“
He tells me to preach the gospel and to make disciples. With whom can I share the gospel? Anyone I encounter, of course. However, many of the Christians I know instinctively avoid people with skin art. And here, ladies and gents, is my opening.
People with tattoos are deserving of love, and deserve to hear the gospel. But, as Paul says in Romans 10:15, “And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? And how shall they preach if they have not been sent?” Paul also says so powerfully in 1 Corinthians 9:22, that he becomes “all things to all people, that by all means (we) might save some.” The line that follows is my favorite: “do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
Tattoos, for all their earthly permanency, are temporary; eternal life is forever. My skin art is my bridge, my connection, my opening to reach out to other people with skin art who do not have a relationship with Jesus. It is also a great conversation starter that gives me a chance to share my story and my faith with strangers who always ask about my skin art, regardless of whether or not they have tattoos.
I am part of a small group–in my church, we call them Victory groups–that is comprised of people otherwise dubbed misfits in the eyes of the world. We are led by a man who has even more skin art than I do. In this group are artists with blue hair, indie musicians, writers, and people who, at first impression, one would never think were Christian. But we are. And we’re here for the long haul, walking this discipleship journey together.
This particular tattoo on the right is my first–and only, so far–tattoo that addresses my faith. Deriving inspiration from Psalm 89:1–I sing of the Lord’s great love forever–it allows me to testify of God’s goodness in a very clear and open way, not like my other tattoos, which are not faith-based. But whether I use my Calvin and Hobbes tattoo, or my ankh tattoo, or my tiger tattoo on my torso, I use them for one very clear, specific purpose.
The glory and honor of God. The sharing of the gospel. The making of disciples. Genesis 50:20 says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” What others think is evil, based on one Bible verse, the context of which most people aren’t even familiar with, I am going to use for good.
Being in the world, but not of it, I choose this particular avenue to reach out to people. I want nothing more for others than to experience the saving, transforming power of Christ. If people come through that, and enter a relationship with Jesus Christ through a conversation started because of my skin art, then I think God will be pleased, regardless of what Leviticus 17:28 says.