I don’t have any tattoos (yet). But I’ve thought about it.
The cost and the pain have held me back. But even more than that is the permanence of tattoos. They become a part of who you are and are removed only with great difficulty and pain. So, because of their permanence, I want to make sure that what I’d have forever a part of me is in fact something I’d want to have forever a part of me.
Some people opt for designs, either abstract or realistic, but that’s not me. I don’t feel the need for my body to be a canvas for artwork, though I understand why others would feel differently. My home is decorated with original art, and I can see why some would want to do the same with their bodies. In fact, a friend was telling me recently how addictive she finds adding to her tattoos, always thinking about what she’ll add next.
Some people opt for concepts, putting key words or quotes on their bodies. And this appeals to me. I’ve memorized many portions of the Scriptures in order to remind me of who I am, who God is, and what my purpose is in the world. Key words and phrases can be triggers for desired thoughts and behaviors. Putting something where the eyes can remind the heart is a time-honored practice and putting something on our bodies as a place visible to the eye would work. So, I’ve considered a pair of words in Hebrew — palal (to pray) and avad (to serve) — as reminders of practical ways to love God and to love my neighbor as myself. But I haven’t gone there. Yet.
The third main form tattoos seem to take is in names. The heart with “Mom” across it is clichéd but understandably so. Our mothers are our most basic relationship, with Mother’s Day the most celebrated day of the year (after Christmas). But it’s not just moms who get tattooed onto bodies. There are grandparents, role models, children, lovers, and even pets. Their names are inked permanently into bodies because they have been inked permanently into hearts.
It’s this last kind of tattoo that God has. A relational tattoo.
Since God is a relational community of three persons who are in such unity that God can only be spoken of as One, relationship is at the very core of who our Lord is. When we speak of the attributes of God, his relationality is preeminent over all the rest. And this is proved by his tattoo.
We read about it in Isaiah 49:16 — See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands …
Different translations have inscribed or written or graven, but the same image remains: God has permanently marked the palms of his hands with the names of his people.
God has tattooed us to the most visible place on his body: his hands. He has our relationship with him front and center.
Wherever he reaches out, our names reach out too. Whatever he touches, our names touch too.
Filled with nerve endings the palms of our hands are soft and vulnerable and are therefore one of the least tattooed areas on people’s bodies. Ink needles there would be excruciating. Now, the nails that pierced Jesus in the hands probably went through his wrists, not the palms of his hands, but I can’t help but think of them when I hear the Isaiah passage.
The love of God has cut us into his very body. And God does have a body. The anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament became reality in the body of Jesus. The tattoos of love the Isaiah describes have become the wounds that Jesus bore on the cross and will bear for all eternity.
These marks that God will bear permanently are the most thought-out, most intentionally chosen tattoos in all history. With great pain, he has engraved himself with us so that his eyes will always remind his heart of his great love for us.