The lighting is fluorescent, the music is loud and heavy. There is a table in the corner with bottles of iodine, rubbing alcohol, and a biohazard container full of used needles. You’re surrounded by bad flash art featuring: marijuana leaves, devils, pin-up girls, and Christ figures.
This tattoo parlor is an unlikely place to acquire something to remind you that God loves and cares for you, but that’s what we’re here to do.
I have quite a few tattoos and all of them have stories. Some good, some not so good. Everything from theological symbols to a broken heart, a doubting Thomas, and of course a cover-up. But we’re not here for me. It’s my mother’s 60th birthday and she has decided to get a tattoo. Her first and only tattoo.
She asked if I would set up the appointment and go with her. Which of course I did with great excitement (it’s not every day your mother asks you to take her somewhere like a tattoo parlor). When we got to the appointment, she showed me the artwork for her tattoo. It was a small brown and white sparrow.
“Why did you chose a sparrow” I asked knowing this was something she had put a lot of thought into. She told me that it was easy for her to believe that God loved my Father. He has been remarkably faithful in his relationships with God and other people. He has served the same church for over 20 years, been a godly Pastor, Husband, and Father with a devotional life I have yet to see equaled. He has by all accounts done important things well. She then went on to say it was easy for her to understand why God would care for me; “You’re a Pastor. You study, write, podcast, and preach. You do things for God. I don’t do those things or anything else terribly important for God.” This was a surprising statement, considering my mother knows the terrible sinner I am, and many of the ways in which I’ve personally failed.
She concluded by sharing how Jesus says God even cares for the sparrows and therefore cares for each one of us (Matt 10:29-31), and even though many times she feels like little more than a sparrow, the tattoo would remind her of God’s love for her.
There is a beautiful truth in what she was saying. Regardless of how you feel about what you’ve done or not done, God still cares for you. That day my mother marked her body with a permeant reminder of this promise. I left the tattoo parlor with something I already knew reaffirmed. The struggle to feel loved by God is a universal struggle. It’s something every honest person deals with. Every person who is honest about their brokenness, failures, and sins—fights this battle. It’s the same place I find myself in again and again.
Does a holy God really love someone as unholy as me? Does a God so good really accept someone who is as bad at good things as I am? Does God really care for someone who so often, couldn’t care less about Him? God’s answer in the giving of His Son is “Yes” to each of these questions and a thousand more just like them.
Some of us have had a needle place ink in our skin to remind us that we are loved, accepted, and cared for by God; and some of us wear crosses or fish to do the same. They serve a purpose and are useful, but ultimately come up short. The truth is, we know God loves us because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
All of our security and acceptance is found in the deep wounds of Christ. It’s found in the purple bruises named for our iniquity and the spear of our transgressions splitting His side. It is as lasting as His forever–crucifixion–scarred hands, and as deep as His nail driven feet. We know God loves us not by the marks we bear but by the marks Christ bears forever, which bear witness of our redemption and God’s unconditional love. Marks acquired on a dark hill designated for death, with naked sinners on His right and left; one of whom knew what really mattered when he asked Jesus to remember Him. It’s a grizzly and bloody scene where Jesus makes a promise never to forget. Perhaps a tattoo parlor isn’t such a strange place to be reminded of this after all.
My mother and I both have tattoos which ultimately remind us how Jesus has scars that say: He remembers you. He loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. And that is good news.