A few days ago I tweeted this: “Nose piercings are not sinful. They’re just pretty decent indicators of a college student’s spiritual IQ” — and since I’ve received a few questions about it, I thought I’d follow up with a bit more explanation.
First, the primary aim of the tweet wasn’t to get the world to stop piercing their noses. Turns out that the Bible has positive references to nose piercings, and that means that the practice in itself is not only not sinful but in fact can be a positively, objectively beautiful thing. Which is why I stated clearly that nose piercings are not sinful.
Second, notice that I made no universal sweeping claims but rather zeroed in on a particular demographic (“college students”) and I merely stated that they were “pretty decent indicators.” That’s a fairly modest claim, indicating that there are also exceptions to the generalization.
Third, what’s the use of such a Tweet and is it really all that helpful? Well, I think it can be helpful for the same reason that Proverbs is full of short, pithy warnings about simpletons and fools. The father doesn’t merely speak in abstractions. He gives concrete examples of folly. Consider the following:
“And saw among the simple, I perceived the youths, a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night” (Prov. 7:7-9)
One might object to any number of Solomon’s generalizations here. Is it really helpful to point out a young man walking on the street? What, are you going to say he was wearing a hoodie too? And what’s wrong with walking on that street? There are lots of other houses on that street and maybe he was praying while he was walking! And seriously, what’s wrong with walking at night? Nothing, I tell you, and isn’t Solomon being just a little too dramatic with all that “black and dark night” business? Did anyone else ever walk on that street? Did anyone else ever walk on that street at night and not end up “as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Prov. 7:22)? Yup. Probably a fair number. Does that make Solomon’s warning any less helpful. Nope. Still helpful. Still a good warning. He noticed a pattern developing and pointed it out to his son.
Or how about: “He who winks with the eye causes trouble, and a prating fool will fall” (Prov. 10:10).
Again, is there anything innately sinful about winking your eye? Nope. Zilch. But was there some general pattern of behavior that Solomon noticed that tied eye winking with folly? Yes. Wisdom notices patterns. Wisdom watches the seasons repeat. Wisdom sees cause and effect, cause and effect. It’s a science and an art. “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” — and just like clockwork every Fall, new simpletons show up for classes (I know because I once was one). And some learn wisdom while others pass on and can’t figure out how they ended up in bed with a some pagan guy from work (Prov. 27:12). But it’s honestly just like summer following spring despite all their head scratching and puzzled looks.
But not only does Solomon point these kinds of things out, so does Jesus the Greater Solomon:
“All their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the boarders of their garments. They love the best places at the feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ … But woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites!” (Mt. 23:5-7, 13).
Were phylacteries innately sinful? Are long garments? Good seats at the feasts or synagogues? Of course not. Were there conscientious scribes or Pharisees who were seeking to honor God who also wore phylacteries and long robes? Probably. But was there a general, pattern of hypocrisy connected to these actions? Yes. Was it useful and helpful for Jesus to point out the hypocrisy? Double yes.
And here, we might as well note that hypocrisy is actually what I’m most worked up about. Jesus says in the same place in Matthew: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Mt. 23:27-28).
According to the Bible an earring or a nose piercing means the loveliness of Christian submission. It is to be an outward adornment consistent with the the beautiful lifestyle of a gentle and quiet spirit which is most precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:4). A Christian woman whose ears are pierced or has her nose pierced should do it for the blessing and honor of her parents or spouse. And it should be a true statement about her actual spiritual state. But as I replied to one friend, when you have immature or foolish college kids going out and getting nose piercings because it’s cool and edgy and all the pagan kids are doing it, what you end up with is basically a moral equivalent of Proverbs 11:22: “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.” It doesn’t fit.
On a wise and faithful woman, jewelry is a crown, a fitting statement about her spiritual state. But when Christian college kids are lining up with the rest of the God-hating lemmings making for the nearest spiritual cliff, faithful friends and parents and pastors ought to say something.
Fourth and last for now, and actually continuing to answer the previous question “What’s the use?” We once again turn to Solomon who once more provides us with a good reason to say this kind of thing out loud:
“Strike a scoffer, and the simple will become wary; rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge” (Prov. 19:25).
“When the scoffer is punished, the simple is made wise; but when the wise is instructed, he receives knowledge” (Prov. 21:11).
In other words, one of the uses of pointing these patterns out is to warn those who are thinking about it. Some kids are thinking about becoming friends with a certain crowd where this is a cultural norm which may or may not be a good idea. In my experience, they should use extreme caution. Others, perhaps innocently enough, find themselves already in said crowd but honestly want to live lives consistent with their adornment, and they should hear this exhortation as a call to put a yeoman’s effort into overturning the generalization. Prove me wrong. Live your life with such grace and gentleness and wisdom that everybody within five hundred miles knows you aren’t with the fools.
And I’m completely willing to admit that I’m dealing with a relatively small sample size, and I wouldn’t be shocked to find different dynamics in a different community. But that shouldn’t stop me or any other parent or friend or pastor from pointing out the perilous trends of this or any other cultural phenomenon whether organic carrots, video games, or handlebar mustaches. People are capable of taking any good thing and turning it into a symbol of their rebellion and folly. And when they do, faithful friends should say so.
And just to be clear: the whole point of this is the blessing of wisdom. Loving God, walking with God is like surfing one of those mammoth waves in South America. Wisdom is freedom. Wisdom is the rush of wind in your face, the spray of the surf, your mouth wide open, riding the wave of God’s pleasure. The reason we care to point out unsettling trends is because they get in the way of that joy. A whole bunch of us are committed to living the good life, enjoying all of God’s gifts, sucking the marrow out of life, living every day for all its worth for the glory of Jesus and His Kingdom. We’ve died and our lives our hidden with God in Christ. We’ve left folly behind, and we’re training for the big waves of eternity. Wisdom is the art of living well under the blessing of God, but folly insists on running down flights of stairs blindfolded with scissors and you can’t tell them it’s wrong because there isn’t a verse about that in the Bible.