There are many stereotypes associated with tattoos and the underlying commonality is difference. People with tattoos are generally different in many ways from those who do not have tattoos. I got my first tattoo when I was 19 years old and I’m not sure how many tattoos I have now. I’ve gotten some that have evolved into bigger projects and absorbed by later additions. I wanted to share my philosophy behind why I get tattoos, what they mean, and provide thoughts on what the Bible has to say about tattoos.
My tattoos are manifestation of my existential reflections of life. I once heard someone say that you should be able to look at someone’s tattoos and be able to tell most of everything about their life. Tattoos become an outward expression of who I am. I don’t do it for the aesthetic so much as I do it for myself. I don’t find it as hedonistic; rather, I find it to be an artistic expression. Here are my stories.
This is my right arm, which is almost complete. I have a little bit of empty space before my sleeve is complete. What these tattoos depict is my place, and humanity’s place, in this universe taken from Psalm 8 (“When I consider the moon and the stars, that you have ordained, what is it that you give thought of the son of man, that you care for him [non-Messianic]). The background is full of stars and planets and it fades in to DNA and a carbon atom. When you imagine the vastness of our universe, how incredibly large it is and then you reflect on humanity, how incredibly tiny we are on this spec of cosmic dust we call earth, you’ll understand our privileged place in this universe. You’ll understand our privileged place in God’s heart. The intricate details God used in designing our existence from the cosmos to the DNA and atoms used to make us up. The pinnacle of creation is the cross and God’s love for us (in Greek around the cross is Mt. 22.37, the greatest commandment). Below the cross reads fides quaerens intellectum, which is Latin for faith seeking understanding.
This is my left arm. The Jerusalem Cross, also known as the Crusader’s Cross, has personal meaning to me that I have only told to my wife. So, the meaning behind that one remains a mystery to everyone else. On the back of my left arm I have “Send Me,” which is from Isaiah’s commissioning. It represents my obedience to God’s will for my life. Just like Isaiah, he willingly submitted himself to what it was the God had him to do and he did so by his initiative willingly obedient to what God had for him to do (I’m not speaking theologically as in God shaped his will by Isaiah’s initiative). It’s quite reflective of my testimony and the purpose that God has for me. The semi-colon is my fun/Crohn’s disease tattoo. I recently had a surgery and had 15 cm of my small intestine, my appendix, and a few inches of my colon removed. Hence… I have a semi-colon.
My chest piece is from Ecclesiastes, Vanity of Vanities. It’s a reflection of life in the absence of God. If there is no God then life is utterly absurd, there is no meaning, purpose, or value to anything. There is no hope. Even for the Christian, if one’s motives, focus, or ends are not for God and his glory then it is in vain. (Excuse the clear bandage and Hohn line, the IV line, in my neck; I took these photos during my surgical recovery). On my right shoulder, just below my neck, I have a celtic butterfly. This is in memory of my niece, Alyssa. My brother was in Iraq and his pregnant wife, Jessica, died (for causes still unknown to us today). This tattoo is for my brother, Jessica, and Alyssa. There’s a lot of pain and suffering behind this tattoo. There are still wounds that must continue to heal and some that have yet to be healed. These wounds will eventually heal and bring a new perspective and new life to all of us. The thing is, these wounds may not heal until our new life at the resurrection in the afterlife.
Tattoos are much more than cultural fads or aesthetic complements (at least to me). Mine tells stories and are life expressions that can be told without words. As you can see, I have a lot of meaning and existential expression behind my tattoos. It becomes an integrated part of who I am. Some have deep meaning and my most recent one has meaning, but it is more fun than serious. Tattoos aren’t for everyone. However, those who do have tattoos need to understand that people are going to judge you know matter what your personal philosophy behind tattoos is. It just comes with the ink, you’ll just have to get thick skin and get over it (Get it? It’s a tattoo joke… Ha… Anyways…).
It’s not wrong to get tattoos and it’s not unbiblical. Here’s and exegesis of the Levitical mention of tattoos. You’ll be quite surprised as to what tattoos and the intent of the passage really is. It’s amazing. I would encourage those who do not have tattoos to not be judgmental of those who do (or for those who have any alternative means of self-expression such as piercings, hair styles, or clothing styles that are less mainstream. Also, consider a means of expression whether it be artistic, vocal, or alternative. For those who do have tattoos, consider and reflect on your philosophy of tattoos. What do they mean to you? Why did you get them or why do you want more? For those who do not have tattoos but one or some, I ask the same questions. Why do you want them? What meaning will it have? Tattoos don’t have to have deep meaning, they can be fun and goofy too. In the end, it’s a personal expression and you give it its value. I would recommend giving it a lot of value because this value will last forever.