Can someone explain to me why this generation has such an infatuation with pain? Why would someone want to take a perfectly good tongue or belly button (or any other part of the body, for that matter) and poke a hole through it? I could understand if we all still lived in caves and pain was a part of everyday life.

And who knows? Maybe after a hard day chasing a brontosaurus and trying to bring home the Big Mac, poking a stick through your tongue would seem like a pleasurable experience. In the Stone Age, the dentist just whacked you on the head with a club to pull your attention away from an achy tooth.

But we don’t live in the Stone Age. We live in an advanced society where scientists have spent years of research and billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to develop drugs to decrease or eliminate pain. Yet droves of students, Christian and non-Christian, are lining up to get their bodies tattooed and pierced.

One summer, I was taking a group of students from California on a mission trip to Panama. We almost missed our plane because the students kept setting off the metal detectors. By the time they unloaded their chains, rings and a host of other paraphernalia, we had enough metal to build a car.

And I have to admit I don’t understand everything about tattoos. Why would you have an eagle tattooed on your chest when, in 20 years, it will look like a vulture perched over a pot roast? I once asked a young man why he chose to push a bolt through his tongue. He explained the piercing this way: “Aye thaugt (click, click) it wooud be koool” (click).

I asked, “Do people ever say you’re hard to understand?”

“Naught rrearry (click). Awe uf by frnds tak rike (click) dis.”

People often ask me about the biblical position on tattoos and body piercing. Lev. 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” This refers to the custom among the people of the pagan nations of piercing or tattooing themselves when a family member died in an effort to appease idols. For an Israelite, piercings and tattoos were signs of idolatrous influence. But we can’t necessarily apply this verse to the tattoos or piercings associated with our culture.

Ex. 21:6 and Deut. 15:17 both refer to piercing a servant’s ear to show ownership. In Old Testament times, tattoos and piercings were similar to cattle brands. And the New Testament makes no prohibitions against either one. There’s no 11th commandment that says, “Thou shalt not pierce thy body or tattoo thyself.”

In the absence of direct references, we look at biblical principles for guidance. The first question to ask is, Does it please and honor my parents? (Eph. 6:1-4). God uses the authorities in our lives to guide us in many areas. If your parents or other authorities would prefer you not have tattoos and piercings, you have your answer. Remember, the commandment to obey your parents is “the first commandment with a promise” (Eph. 6:2).

The second question to consider is, Will this affect my witness today or in the future? All things are possible, but not all things are profitable. As people of God, we base our actions not on the here and now, but on eternity. Will this activity enlarge the Kingdom of God?

Third, consider this question: Would Jesus do this to His body? Our bodies are not our own. They’ve been bought with a price and are the living temple, the earthly residence of a holy God. Rom. 12:1 urges us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him.

Fourth, ask yourself, Does this activity bring glory to God or attention to me? I know many Christian college students who have Bible verse tattoos. Most of them tell me their purpose is to let the world know they follow Jesus. But I remind them that Scripture says God and the world will know this by three things: obedience (John 15:14), abiding in His word (John 8:31-32) and love one for another (John 13:34-35). When they tell me Jesus’ body was pierced, I remind them He didn’t do it to look cool. After the resurrection, Scripture says “And Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). Close your eyes and imagine Jesus lifting his hands to pray—hands pierced on the cross.

Do you want to show others your body piercings? Go ahead. Just make sure they come from a crucified life.