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Volume 10, Issue 1: Childer

Eyebrow Rings

Douglas Wilson

So. What do Christian parents do when their eldest son wants an eyebrow ring? Generally, when these things happen, parents don't have any problem going sideways in some fashion, but they usually do so on the basis of some traditional value or other. However, the disintegration of the culture we see around us should have taught us a long time ago that our traditional values are really nothing but a mud fence built to withstand a tidal wave.

The first issue to consider is the necessity of a good teaching relationship between parents and teenagers. Too often we define "good relationship" as one in which no one is yelling, and we leave out one of the things which God says characterizes a good relationship. "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother" (Prov. 1:8). However, if a teaching/respectful relationship is not there, and the child has grown, then the parents should simply learn what they can, and pray—and refuse to subsidize any overt rebellion.
But suppose such a relationship is there, but the parents do not know what to say. They assume the reason for their dislike of "the earring" is related to their being terminally unhip. When their teenager wants to fit in with the other kids, they do not feel as though they have any biblical basis for saying no. And if they were to say no, they do not know how they would justify it scripturally.
What does the Bible teach us about our very common practices of body-piercing and body multilation? Before addressing the biblical instruction, we should begin with certain self-evident truths.
The current mania for self-mutilation and piercing is clearly a manifestation of a deep-seated pagan drive to rebel against God. We should make sure that we grant to unbelievers the dignity of explaining and demonstrating to us what it is they are doing. The widespread practice of body modification and mutilation is a religious phenomenon of the first order of magnitude. Anyone who maintains otherwise is simply not listening. The irony is that the many imitators of such practices that we find in the church today are simultaneously insisting that we pay close attention to what the world is doing while all the time studiously ignoring what the world is saying it all means. Piercing parlors (a minor industry has grown up around this) will, for a fee, punch a hole in your lips, eyebrows, tongues, noses, nipples, navels, or genitalia. And yet some Christians persist in saying, "But you can't really say from Scripture that such things are necessarily sinful . . ." What would it take? A tattoo saying, "I love the devil"? Our situation must be understood as a cultural manifestation of an underlying loss of faith and coherence. Men and women need to belong. If they do not have and cherish the mark of baptism, they will eventually drive a hole in themselves and take on the insignia of rebellious servitude. Rebellion against God necessarily involves slavery to sin, slavery to lusts, slavery to folly, and slavery to men.
In Scripture, piercing clearly means subordination. "Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever" (Ex. 21:6; cf. Dt. 15:17). When a man was entering into slavery, he was to have his ear pierced. In addition, a particular form of bodily mutilation was expressly forbidden to Israel. "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:28). The priests of Baal served their god in that way. "And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them" (1 Kings 18:28). In Proverbs 8, wisdom declares that all who hate her love death. They also love that which leads up to death—self-loathing, as evidenced by that attractive ring in the tongue.
A glib response to all this might be to say, "Well, there are lots of examples of men wearing earrings in the Bible." Israelite men used their earrings to make the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-4), the Ishmaelites wore earrings (Judges 8:24), and men in Israel could have their ears pierced (Dt. 15:17). Overlooked in this is the fact that the Israelite men in question were either just coming out of slavery, or just going into it. Body piercing is a mark of slavery. And the Ishmaelites were not part of Israel and were fit for slavery.
Another glib response among Christians might be, "Well, I would never take it that far." But this is not to think like a Christian should. Before asking how much of something we should do, we must first ask what it means. This practice of ours is a resurgence of the mentality—a slave mentality—which we see condemned in the Bible. "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men" (1 Cor. 7:23).
This of course provokes the question whether subordination is necessarily evil. Of course not. A godly form of subordination exists in the world God made in the subordination of a wife to her husband. This is why it is fully appropriate for a godly woman to have earrings (Ez. 16:12), or culture permitting, nose rings (Gen. 24:30; Ez. 16:12; Ex. 35:22). But restraint is placed upon us even here, for Christian women are free women, submitted only to their husbands, and so they should not drape themselves in chains. Their point in jewelry should be to seek to make themselves attractive to their husbands, and to do so with all modesty (1 Tim. 2:8-10 ). However, the point of body-piercing is not to be attractive, but rather the reverse. The intent is to be repulsive. A girl who wears a dog collar is saying what she thinks of herself. The surprising thing is why so many Christians refuse to grant her the dignity which she denies. We do not have to agree with her point to understand it.

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