No, the title is not a typo, and it’s not this guy. He’s The Thinker, Le Penseur in French, which is a marble and bronze statue dating back to 1880 by French sculptor Auguste Rodin. It is said that Rodin originally created the statue to depict Dante sitting in front of the Gates of Hell (Inferno) pondering that part of his his poem, The Divine Comedy.
No, what I am thinking about is the th’inker. Or said another way, those adorned with body art. You know, ink, tats. Folks with tattoo’s. Why am I thinking about this? Well, I have been watching the Olympics for the last week, and as a former collegiate swimmer, I have been especially interested in the coverage of the successes of the U.S. swimming team. Actually, I enjoy the coverage of swimming no matter who is competing and succeeding.
Anyway, I have noticed something really apparent to me. That is, how relatively “tattoo free” the swimmers are, and that is irrespective of the nationality of the competitors. And, I might add that it is not just the swimmers, as it seems like comparatively few Olympic athletes are adorned with ink, the Redeem Team and soccer player Natasha Kai (who has 19 tattoos) being notable exceptions. As I write this post, I am watching the women’s marathon, and as I do so, I literally see NO tattoos on any of the women in the lead. I don’t recall many, or in most cases, ANY tattoos on the gymnasts, the volleyballers, rowers, and the other sports I have seen in the television coverage. Why is this?
I confess that I have never understood the motivation for body art. And the explanations that have been given to me for why a tattoo was sought and ultimately received, have never been particularly compelling. I have had it explained to me that SOME (notice it is some, not all) who have received tattoos do so out of some emotional response. It has been explained to me that some are narcissistic, some are self-loathing, some simply attention seekers and exhibitionists. Interesting thoughts.
And if those explanations are to some degree grounded in fact, might THAT be an explanation for why the swimmers and other Olympic super-athletes, (who are probably not generally self-loathing; and who have a high level of respect for and provide excellent care for their bodies; and who express themselves in constructive ways that result in attention being directed to them) less apt to permanently mark their bodies?
High performance athletes aside, is it appropriate for Christians to get tattoos? How about if the marks are expressing something sacred? I admit, I am not a fan of tattoos. That is mostly a matter of preference. A former pastor of mine refers to them as “long term memorials to short term foolishness.” I know of some (that former pastor NOT being one of them) who quote Leviticus 19: 28 as a reason to forbid tattoos. But I submit they are taking scripture out of context. And a visual inspection of anyone who uses this verse, particularly if it is a man, will tell you whether they are faithful to the teaching of the Levitical law themselves, as the verse immediately before it forbids the trimming of sideburns and beards.
Stipulating that as believers we are covered by grace, what should our response be to tattoos? Both for someone who might be considering getting one, or someone who already has? How should those of us who teach, instruct about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of getting tattoos? Relying on the counsel of God’s word, what is the correct response?