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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

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It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

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The elevator doors opened, and out walked a young lady. She was tattooed all over her forehead, cheeks, ears, neck, chest and shoulders. She smiled as she passed by, clearly feeling secure in her body artwork. She was a little over the top compared to many who decorate their bodies today.

Tattooing has become very popular in the last decade or so. Full arms (sometimes called “sleeves”) and legs more blue than brown or white are quite in vogue. Even older, gray-haired people have adorned their aging bodies with what clearly are new tattoos seen while at the gym.

When I was young and a member of the Royal Navy, I worked with men who were veterans of World War II. Some of these men had their entire backs covered with a theme. One man’s back was tattooed with “The Rock of Ages.” This was represented by a huge cross on top of rocks with the waves breaking over them. A lady in white clothing was pictured struggling to climb up to the cross. Another man had a galleon ship with Neptune and a serpent intertwined around the ship. A third example is man with multiple tattoos who had a dotted line around his neck with “Please cut along dotted line.” I could go on, but you get the picture.

The history of tattooing goes back to the beginning of recorded time. One motivation may be based in religious beliefs or “beautifying benefits.” Tattoos were even used as identifying markers for slaves and criminals. Currently some street gangs require symbols indicating membership, status or rank. Numbers and special signs on faces and necks give the police marks to identify.

There are various ways to create permanent markers for the skin. Some cut the skin and rub ink into the cut. Another way is pricking with crude pins and rubbing in the ink or dye to penetrate under the skin. Coal miners frequently had blue scars that resulted from the coal dust entering a cut or graze.

Today, with the assistance of modern equipment and coloring agents, body art has been taken to a new level. Very fine needles deposit ink subtly into the subcutaneous layers below the skin. This allows for fine shading and great detail. The inks and colors are neutral to the body and therefore are not rejected, so they are permanent. Well, almost permanent. Removal by laser surgery is available today but is painful, expensive and doesn’t always remove the tattoo completely.

There are a couple of basic questions that need to be asked: Is tattooing a wise thing to do, and is it in keeping with God’s Word?

Let us look first at what God says in the Scriptures. Leviticus 19:26-28 Leviticus 19:26-28 [26] You shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall you use enchantment, nor observe times. [27] You shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shall you mar the corners of your beard. [28] You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
has a section covering various pagan practices that God’s people are to avoid, and tattooing is one of these. It says, “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you . . .” The reason given is “I am the Lord” (Verse 28; also see the sidebar). Since God created us, and if His opinion is important to us, we ought to listen and obey.

A second reason is that fashions come and go all the time, and one thing is for sure, they will make the rounds in a generation or two. I see young ladies today wearing hairstyles that my grandparents wore. Clothing styles also change frequently. There’s nothing wrong with new fashions so long as they are modest, appropriate and balanced. However, with tattooing, that’s a different kettle of fish. Why? Hair and clothing can be easily modified or changed. Not so much with a tattoo! Its permanent residence below skin is showerproof and scrub-proof.

We should also consider the particular object or design the tattoo represents. It says something about you. It sends a message—one you may come to regret. The decision to have a tattoo is easily made especially when a person is young and perhaps under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is not a good idea. Waking up in the morning with some grotesque image that your friends told you was great the night before may not seem so through sober eyes! It is amazing what people will do when they are not fully in control of their faculties. An overall good principle to apply here is in 2 Timothy 2:22 2 Timothy 2:22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
American King James Version×
: “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

Another motivation may be an emotional one perhaps involving a romance. The famous artist Norman Rockwell illustrated this by painting a sailor being tattooed with the name Betty. The only problem was that above were “Sing Lee, Olga, Mimi, Rosetta and Sally” all crossed out! (The Tattooist, Post cover, March 4, 1944). What may seem cool today may not be cool tomorrow.

Embarrassment has eventually left my psyche, but the tattoos remain as a reminder of my youthful immaturity.

With tattoos becoming more popular, more research is looking into the effects of tattoo ink in the body. Scientists have known for a while that ink pigments from tattoos travel to lymph nodes, because the lymph nodes become tinted. Recent research is discovering more about the nanoparticles that make up pigments and their effect on the body, like skin and lymph node inflammation. A recent article explains: “The team reports strong evidence of the ‘long-term deposition’ of toxic elements in the body, which they say could lead to chronic enlargement of the lymph nodes” (, Sept. 13, 2017; Scientific Reports, Sept. 12, 2017).

I have three tattoos. I got them while I was in the Royal Navy and before God called me to His Church. Way back I was so proud of my peacock and my Bermuda long-tail bird with its yellow bill and white body. Each shoulder displays one, and an emblem of Wales is on my right forearm with my sister’s name under it. But over the years, the thick ink lines have gradually merged. My peacock is a huge blob of blue, and my sister’s name has the same unreadable fate. What begins looking like a butterfly may look like a jumbo jet as the skin sags over the years.

What looked good at the time is no longer so! Why? For three reasons. When I was called by God and became a member attending church, I was embarrassed to learn that I had something that I could not change and was against what God said. This reminder would be with me for the rest of my life as there was no way to remove it. At the time there was no laser treatment available. Second, the technology used in the process was quite rudimentary. The needles were large, the ink lines were very thick, and the colors were not very bright. Third, as mentioned above, as I have aged so have my tattoos, and they now look horrible.

As the years have passed by, embarrassment has eventually left my psyche, but the tattoos remain as a reminder of my youthful immaturity every time I see them. I was not a part of God’s way of life back then. I clearly know that God never intended for us to mark ourselves in this manner. So remember: It’s easy to put on; very difficult and expensive to take off. What seemed like a good idea at the time is no longer good.