I have always had a thing for tattoos.  When I was a child, one of my favorite cartoon characters (Popeye) had one; a cousin in the navy had one; and my uncle had one (a snorting bull under which he later added the word “wife”.)  Some of the artwork and colors used today are extraordinary.  I don’t have any tattoos myself, but last year I considered getting one of those temporary ones on the boardwalk–but I couldn’t find an anchor like Popeye’s.

At the same time, I have always viewed tattoos as a matter of taste.  Robert Ripley and Ray Bradbury both presented overly-painted individuals as freakish; and my masculine associations with tattoos leave me confused when I see women all tatted up.  A lady with a small heart, or butterfly, or cross in an out-of the way place doesn’t send off any alarms; but a woman with tattoos all over her arms or her neck reminds me of an attractive postage stamp with a heavy postmark stamped across it.

Don’t get me wrong:  I defend anyone’s rights to tattoo anything anywhere.  If I don’t like it, that’s my preference, but I refuse to condemn anyone for their personal choice in the matter. 

At the same time, before the next generation gets the full Sherwin Williams treatment, they ought to be aware of a few caveats.


  • The Bible clearly told the Jews not to get any tattoos (Lev. 19:28).  There must have been a reason, and if that constitutes a general spiritual principle, we ought to consider it as we make our decisions.
  • Even with modern technology, tattoos should still be considered permanent.  Everyone I have known who got a bad tattoo ended up getting it covered by an even bigger one, rather than having it removed.
  • As popular as tattoos have gotten, they still have strong associations with prisons, rebellion, and gangs.

Which brings me to the inspiration for today’s cautionary tale.

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal details the difficulties faced by some immigrants trying to live down their tattoos in order to get ahead in the US.  Actions, even long past actions, have lasting consequences.

Isn’t it just the same in our Christian lives?  There is behavior that may be legal, but it might not be expedient, and it might leave lasting marks on our reputations or even our bodies.  Paul spent years trying to live down his years of persecuting The Way, so that he could be recognized and minister among them.  Solomon may have gotten straightened out later in life, but he will always be remembered for the many wives who led him into idolatry.  Every Sunday School student still knows about David’s sin and Peter’s denials.

Before we get caught up in a fad of our popular culture, we ought to consider the consequences that our actions may have not only on our lives and ministries, but on our children and grandchildren.  We certainly don’t need a black mark against our name.