My brother is a tattoo artist. He does it for a living. My mom doesn’t like it though and therefore approaches him constantly about it. My brother’s reaction is, “Mom don’t worry, when we’re resurrected, we’re not going to have them anymore.” I don’t know where he got that idea, so now I’m wondering. Is it true or was he just trying to make mom feel better? The answer is important and personal to me. You see. I have 4 brothers and their bodies are covered in tattoos and mom is worried. Thank you!!
There’s a lot going on in your question, so I’m going to parse it to three focus areas:
1. When we are resurrected, we will no longer have tattoos. Is this statement correct?
2. If correct, then does it matter if we get them willy-nilly?
3. How does the Church’s teachings on tattoos affect cultures (like the Pacific Islander culture) where tattoos are much more than counter-culture statements? (My Knights of the Internet (of course I have Internet Knights; how do you think I fight the trolls?) tell me this question is relevant though not stated).
First, my reading of the scriptures leads me to agree with your brother that in the resurrection we will not have tattoos. Amulek testified that “the spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time” (Alma 11:43). So while our resurrected bodies will be familiar, they will have a “perfect form”. Clarifying more, Amulek contends that “there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body” (Alma 11:44). Alma teaches this same doctrine to his son. “Every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23). I’m aware of only one example where a permanent scar is still present on a resurrected body, and that is the Savior and the marks of the Atonement He bears.
Second, using the doctrine of the resurrection as justification for tattoos is a mockery of the body. It smacks of the damnable teaching condemned by Nephi, “Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 28:8-9). Technically unrepentant sinners are eventually saved in the Telestial Kingdom and enjoy the company of the Holy Ghost. Technically they do suffer for those sins (see D&C 19:17-18). Technically such devilish advocates are correct. But experientially, practically, and holistically, Nephi is absolutely right to call these out as “false and vain and foolish doctrines”. Nobody goes to church to learn how to be saved in a lower kingdom. Salvation, in it’s ultimate and proper sense, is all about the Celestial Kingdom, living the kind of life our Father lives. It is about Eternal Lives!
Similarly, the doctrine of the resurrection is a real non-sequitur to the practice of tattoos. The body is the first stewardship we are given in this estate. We will one day have to give an accounting for it. It is a great disservice to preach to someone contemplating getting a tattoo that they are really temporary because of the resurrection. Before then they will have to repent of abusing that stewardship. I have quoted from prophets in the past on this matter, and I will do so again:
What creation is more magnificent than the human body? What a wondrous thing it is as the crowning work of the Almighty.
Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, said: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Cor. 3:16–17).
Did you ever think that your body is holy? You are a child of God. Your body is His creation. Would you disfigure that creation with portrayals of people, animals, and words painted into your skin?
I promise you that the time will come, if you have tattoos, that you will regret your actions. They cannot be washed off. They are permanent. Only by an expensive and painful process can they be removed. If you are tattooed, then probably for the remainder of your life you will carry it with you. I believe the time will come when it will be an embarrassment to you. Avoid it. We, as your Brethren who love you, plead with you not to become so disrespectful of the body which the Lord has given you. (Gordon B. Hinckley, A Prophet’s Plea and Counsel for Youth, Liahona April 2001).
Since I’ve already upset readers on this topic, let me point out that this is the standard the Lord’s anointed have set for members of the faith. Different guidance and counsel is given for those who enter the faith or renew their faith already possessing tattoos. Note also that I am not expressly condemning your brother for the being in the tattooing business. As with so many gospel principles, the disciple must exercise agency in selecting a career, balancing a number of concerns that feed into the decision. Naturally with this agency (as is proper with all stewardships) comes the principle of accountability which should be fully weighed in the decision process.
Third, I think it’s very clear what the Lord’s standard is for us when tattoos are counterculture, defiant statements (and also when it’s the result of a poorly-thought-out escapade). But what of other cultures where tattoos have other meaning and significance. I once spoke with a Samoan Talking Chief and asked him about his tattoos. He laughingly told me they kept him covered in case his ‘ie lavalava ever fell off so he’d still be modest. There is great value in incorporating the gospel culture into worldwide cultures. Oftentimes, it magnifies the good that is already there. For instance, Island culture greatly values family, and that is only increased when the gospel culture is added to it. Sometimes (as in the American south), a part of the culture needs to be abandoned (like iced tea and sweet tea) in favor of gospel living. Elder Oaks says of this challenging choice:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change. “Repent” is its most frequent message, and repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change.
The traditions or culture or way of life of a people inevitably include some practices that must be changed by those who wish to qualify for God’s choicest blessings.
[T]he present-day servants of the Lord do not attempt to make Filipinos or Asians or Africans into Americans. The Savior invites all to come unto Him (see 2 Ne. 26:33; D&C 43:20), and His servants seek to persuade all—including Americans—to become Latter-day Saints. We say to all, give up your traditions and cultural practices that are contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel, and join with His people in building the kingdom of God” (Dallin H. Oaks, Repentance and Change, October 2003 General Conference).
I’m not qualified to speak to the conflict between the general prohibition on getting tattooed versus the specific cultural meanings for a Pacific Islander. That’s one of the reasons why the Lord, in His wisdom, has granted us local leaders who are familiar with both cultures and endowed with the Spirit to guide us in such matters. I encourage you, your mother, and your brother to visit with your local bishop and talk tattoos. I find local leaders useful in matters of counsel.