Friday, June 29, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

It never ceases to amaze me how many different beliefs exist about the nature of God.  One thing is sure; He's there.  But some believe Him to be kind and good, never anything but - while others believe Him to be disinterested - and still others believe Him to be vengeful and sadistic. And there are so many others who believe to varying degrees every possible combination and permutation in between, with just as many personal reactions.

I believe that the life experiences we have had, can't help but influence our perception of who God is and what He's like.  

Source of photo: this business site
It's like the old story of the blind men and the elephant.  One was at the tail, the other at the side, one at the tusk, one at the trunk, and the other at a front leg.  Each of them argued up and down about what the elephant was: the one at the tail said the elephant was a rope. The one at the side said it was a wall.  The one at the leg said it was a tree. The one at the tusk said it was a spear. The one touching the trunk said it was a snake.  They were all right in one sense (that of their own experience) but they were all wrong (in that none of them got the whole picture). 

I like the imagery of that, because the elephant is so huge and the people so small in comparison, with limited understanding. But of course a comparison is not complete because we're talking about a creature that occupies space and time, and God is infinite.  (I wanted to point that out before I continued.)  Any comparison anyone could use would be pale at best.

That being said, a modern-day illustration would be the proverbial elephant in the room.  That is, a room barely big enough to house the elephant, in which it cannot turn around. In this room are various people stationed around it - able to hear one another but not see each other. Each of them knows that what they see is an elephant - they all agree that it exists - but they differ in their perception of its character and its intentions.

The elephant is able to move its trunk and the one nearest to that end gets stroked and caressed by the trunk - so the person up front believes the elephant to be friendly and approachable.  

The guy at the back, on the other hand, has to deal with always being crapped on.  The view is - shall we say - less than stellar. So he believes the elephant to be sadistic and cruel, distant and unwilling to show him any mercy.  

The people nearest to the legs believe the elephant to be dangerous because it keeps shuffling its feet - and the danger of such a heavy animal stepping on their own feet is very real.  

Those by the side can see nothing except how vast the elephant is - they feel overwhelmed by it, and helpless to do anything about it.  

I could use more illustrations but I think these will suffice.  These people, hearing each other's descriptions of the elephant, argue with each other to try to convince the other person that the other's perception of the elephant is wrong. "No, it's not like that - it's really friendly," the guy at the front says to the guy at the back, who isn't convinced no matter what the others say - or he figures that if the guy at the front is telling the truth, then the elephant must be playing favorites.  

The people by the legs figure that the elephant may be dangerous, but as long as you stay out of its way, then you're okay - be careful what you do or how suddenly you move, and you'll be all right.  "Yeah, right!" say the people at the sides.  "There's no way you can escape this thing - it's too huge, it'll eventually crush us all..."  and on goes the argument. 

Each of the people in the room has been provided with a tool kit - basic hammers, saws, and so forth.  But none of them actually uses them except to create little knick-knacks to decorate the room, which is already too full because - well - there's an elephant in there.

The fact of the matter is that the elephant shouldn't be trapped in the room to begin with - and therein lies the root of the problem.  An elephant wasn't meant to be locked in a room.

And God wasn't meant to be locked in a box either.

What am I saying?  Well, maybe it's time for a little demolition. Not only is God trapped in there - so are we!!  Maybe it's time to use those tools we've been given for something useful and tear down the walls - or get out of the way and ask God to push through, to break out of the confines people (we) have built around Him based on their (our) own experience.  Maybe if we insisted on escaping the limitations of our own perspective and listened to another person's point of view, knowing that it too may be influenced by his or her own past life-events (yet willing to give up defending our own position and learn something) we might be able to see a bigger picture and come to know God on His terms and not our own. 

But are we willing to go outside the comfort zone of what we've always known? I wonder.

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