Just One Verse

Rev. Steve Schlissel - December 22, 2016

Our Retort on tattoos was shared by a few. One share I learned of had prompted this (edited) response from a reader:

“I’m just curious why one verse in Leviticus is worthy of attacking fellow Christians over, while a bunch of others are ignored because they’re inconvenient?”

To which I say, Thank you. And more, to wit: Why attack Christians over one verse?

I think this question has the potential to help us get closer to a problem that appears as an ever-present bedmate of Christians+tattoos. It could be called, “Who are you, Lord, to tell me what to do?” And whether you want to take my word for it or jump in and look it over for yourself, this is the whole of it, all 9 yards, when everything is scraped away.

Naturally, a bald and bold challenge as is posed by the question in that FORM is impermissible. As with human parents and their human children, the rules call for cloaking flagrant defiance. Knowing this, parents employ methods to help them classify the unacceptable responses of their offspring. The most familiar sifter is: “Did you HEAR me?” From the kids’ side, the plea-bargain comes wrapped in, “But I thought you said…”
“Just one verse” is, of course, what is imagined to be an artful way to tell God, “If you were really serious about that, well, I’d a’thought you would’ve made that clear.”

Present also in the objection is the clever horizontalization of things–the contempt for God’s sovereignty, authority and will which characterize the sins of body-modi is transformed to nothing more than difference of opinion among fellow Christians. “You have one verse supporting chewy candy; I have 2–and most woman–voting chocolate.” This way of framing the matter, of course, overlooks all the most important elements, such as God’s lovingkindness revealed IN HIS LAW FOR US. He and His “rules” are locked up in a room for cosmic spoilsports, to be let out only when unavoidable, necessary or of advantage to the one who dreams he holds the keys.

If we could manage to retain in our minds that sin IS lawlessness, the conversations with tattoo heads would be far more pleasant. For then we might find TWO parties’ intent on honoring God, individually and together. But typically, as soon as a tatt-head smells an objection to his chosen lust–there it is, in one phrasing or another, “Who are you to tell me what to do?”
Of course, if it ended up being a struggle between two human-originating opinions, the whole conversation could be just as well junked. But the tragic character of the phenomenon becomes much clearer as you observe the various squirms intent on keeping GOD out of the discussion. Of those tactics, “just one verse” sure dwells near the bottom.

First, what you heard from Schlissel certainly did NOT rely on one verse. Lev. 19:28, on the contrary, was treated as an instance of the type of “verse” (oy!–when the Word of God gets statistically abstracted and shelved, it hurts) in which the Lord is graciously shepherding us on how we are to remain faithfully His during our sojourns in the midst of God-haters to the right of us, atheists to the left.

Christians would do well to recall that our Lord Jesus, whom many have found to be a reliable example of what it means to be faithful (ahem), in a most intense encounter with the Father of Lies, incinerated three successive temptations, each with “a verse.” Are we to suppose the lord of Evil would have shown himself at the top of his game had he said, “That’s only one verse”? Uh, no. He acknowledged the power of “a verse” to vanquish by moving on to another temptation altogether.

But here, you see, the Squirms exhibit the sinful heart as clearly as it is likely to be found. The fundamental, raw, unvarnished problem goes back a looooong way. On one side we have God, who is owed ALL gratitude, our lives and redemption, and 100% of our love and obedience. On the other side are punks and ingrates who want to do what they want to do without Him interfering. THAT IS THE REAL, HONEST PICTURE. PERIOD. Just watch and it becomes clear (as I’ve been made to over and over and…..). It may begin with a, “God never said I couldn’t do body modi,” which is why I endeavored to demonstrate the “Everybody knowses” and their role in Scripture revelation. God’s disclosure of what we must know but might not is predicated upon us already knowing what everybody surely ought to know. He doesn’t feel a burden to “prove” that we need to or ought to eat before explaining which provocations might result in His depleting our food supply. Everybody knows we like and need food, so He focuses on the instructions we need to know if we’d like to live lives in which food is not hard to come by. So too, the Lord has not seen it as necessary to FIRST explain to us that we are made with a built-in aversion to pain and torture. But as an illustration of the depths of our depravity, we commonly hear Christian tatt-heads complaining that God’s will on the matter of body-modi is unclear or unknown because they can’t seem to find the verse which says, “Don’t mutilate yourself.” Think about this, PLEASE. If nothing else, it might enlist some sympathy for what I and others have to experience during our pleadings with, esp. young, ignorant Christians who don’t seem to have it quite fixed in their heads that aversion to pain is a gift from God of inestimable value. The fact that they are desirous of undergoing procedures which they know full well are grievous and perhaps torturous, and they know that the consequences of the procedures could result in the ineradicable pain of profound regret–later on, when they might discover that, despite their best efforts, they’ve somehow been afflicted with a little wisdom–they face these consequences, both the certain and the merely likely, with brainless bravado, even though the contemplated action is as far from “necessary” as any choice they will encounter, ever. Weighing in on the positive side (for them), standing naked as the sole idol urging them on toward pain and self-abasement and mutilation, is their new default Almighty: Cool. That’s right, people of God–we are entrenched in ARGUMENT here, with (mostly) young people purchased by God in Christ, who are tempted to negotiate with Hell. For the meager price of physical torture, along with a rider about a possible lifetime of regret, (we don’t include the far heavier price of displeasing their Lord because we are pretending that to be, for argument’s sake, an indeterminate matter)–for that low, low price they can walk away with something they hope they will think of as COOL. Oh, they do understand that not EVERYONE will see it as cool. They especially know that the ones who love them most, who have given them most, who are most firmly committed to their well-being–they know that these few will NOT think it cool, will not consider it a bargain. They know that their contemplated action may–no, check that. They know what they’re intending WILL–with absolute certainty–result in immediate, intense and long-lasting discomfort and/or pain for these few. But such considerations, for half of the hopeful tatt-heads, are beside the point. (For the other ‘half’, they ARE the point.) But be all this as it may, they cannot be bothered with details while knowing that the bargain may slip through their fingers if they don’t take decisive action NOW. After all, this is the kind of bargain that only comes about by knowing someone. Who do you suppose it is?

Be all this as it may, the bulk–if not the entirety–of the decisional mechanics have little or nothing to do with God. They don’t know anything of His revealed will which suggests He’s a’gin it. For most of the young transgressors, God-considerations are encompassed and dismissed in a single thought, which may be summarized thusly: “Two people I heard of who have body-modi are serious Christians. They were before and they continued to be afterward. Not only do these folks (one girl, one guy) go to church (“my church”), “But the guy, I know for a fact, not only reads the Bible, but he reads books ABOUT the Bible. So, if it was wrong or something, he’d surely know.” Against such solid evidence, what chance does a verse stand?

Presuming, again, that there is no known or knowable BIBLICAL reason NOT to ‘too, might the single verse be permitted to stand as evidence that, AT LEAST a man is not permitted to say that he is getting a tattoo FOR the Lord? It may not seem like much, but if it’s allowed, it could help, right? Because then we are allowed to read the Bible as if had at least as much authority as an Amazon Wishlist. At least we can trust that, however much we might love tattoos, God apparently doesn’t share our enthusiasm (look up etymology of that word for an irony) for them.

Lest I drift too far, let me say that nearest God enters the entire process is as a name to blurt or scream while the needle shows the skin who’s boss.
The point of all this is, we may behold in this issue/activity a snapshot of the place reserved for God in the hearts and minds of those who gather as “His Church.” Brothers and sisters throw me out along with my arguments but DO look at what comes at you from the other side. Every paragraph, sentence, word, letter may be plotted along one graph: I want to do it. God will not stop me.

In fact, unlike what we find in the temptations to other sins–where God and His Word are famous for repeated successful interventions, I can’t say that I know of a single instance where a Christian has confessed, “I want very much to get a tattoo, but God’s will governs me, not my own. Therefore, I’ve never yielded to the temptation.” Of course, such might occur daily; I assert only that I’ve not heard it. And the reason, I conjecture, lies not in Scripture’s lack of clarity, but rather in the maze we’ve erected to keep “God in the trunk, where He belongs. If there’s a flat, we’ll be sure to let Him know.”

I think I should add that, surprised or not, our congregation probably has more ink per square inch on the bodies who form its membership than 90% of similarly confessing churches. But this is simply because, for the most part, we happen to be made up of souls who were escorted into the Covenant by agencies other than parents. That is, we were made, not born, heirs. What’s more to the point, however, than the volume of ink we’re now ashamed of, is the volume of our determination that no FRESH ink finds its way into these ranks. We owe that much and more to the One whose shed blood effected our forgiveness. So, all parties here know, the skin that brings it in will quickly be put out. The lusts-du-jour are the first to be put on notice. A church rarely does a good job trying to be a pillar of fashion. But it doesn’t need to pretend when it accepts the role of pillar and foundation of truth–whether of truth contained in one verse, or in 32,000.

And wow–THAT’s a lot of ink!

Questions or comments?
Send them to questions@messiah.nyc