There is a tale from India about six blind men who wish to discover what an elephant is. Since none of then could see the animal, each one was given a different part to touch. The first man holds onto a leg and says an elephant is like a tree trunk. The second touches its tail and thinks an elephant is like a rope. The third holds its trunk and so says a snake; the fourth says a fan because he is touching an ear, the fifth feels the animal’s side and says a wall and the sixth likens the elephant’s tusk to a spear.
The moral of the story is clear: each one of the men only hold a small part of the truth about an elephant and therefore in order to get a larger and more accurate perspective they needed to share that knowledge and listen to one another.
From a Christian point of view it is easy to translate that into our perspective on God and life. God is SO big and awesome and beyond us that we hold onto to the little bit about God that we know and are sometimes scared to take on someone else’s experience and perspective because it challenges our own. For example, I am very happy with the gentle merciful side of Jesus which:
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Yet I am extremely uncomfortable with subjects like judgement and hell. I know they are there in the Bible and have to be addressed, so I listen to them, trying to take them on board but they don’t sit nicely with the gentle Jesus I am more at ease with. This is why we need the body of Christ. We all have our own take on God and life. None of us has it pinned down so together we have a much richer and more accurate reflection of God’s nature.
HOWEVER the main point of this post is not about that. My real point is that some of us need to hold onto those parts of God that we KNOW are true in the face of opposing viewpoints. And sometimes the heaviest opposition we face is in church itself. When week in week out I am presented with sermons about how you need to be doing more to becoming transformed like Christ or doing more to serve him it is easy to lose touch with God’s key messages to me this year:
§ Stop striving, instead relax and receive
§ Sit at my feet and listen to me, like Mary of Bethany
§ Learn to live by the unforced rhythms of grace
These are not messages of doing but of being. I ‘do’ best when I focus on ‘being’ with God and ‘being’ myself with him, often gut wrenchingly so. So many times I have come home torn between between what I have personally think I know of God and what I have been told from the front. I end up confused and generally convinced that I must be wrong somewhere, that my experience is false in some way.
Yet there is a positive side to all this: it forces me to go further into God searching for answers. Asking for truth about the matter – his truth not mine or someone else’s. Sometimes it comes quickly such as a verse which leaping out of the page. At others there is no reply and I learn to live with the ambiguity of life but safe in the knowledge that I sought to find answers which in itself gives me an element of peace about it all.
Through it all I am learning to trust the part of God that I know to be true. It is hard and there is much refining to be done and many more parts to discover – however we need to start somewhere with God, whichever part that may be for each of us.
And in the end I just come down to trusting that the God’s elephantness and grace is big enough to make amends when I am blind and deaf to truth.
So which parts of God are you hanging onto or just beginning to explore? Which ones are you desperately trying to avoid? Let me know