I’m sure most of you have heard the proverbial story of the blind men who were led up to an elephant and asked to tell what it was. One of them touched the elephant’s tail and concluded that he was feeling a rope. The second, who was touching the elephant’s ear, said, “No, it’s a fan!” A third blind man was touching the elephant’s tusk and said, “You’re both wrong. It’s a spear!” Finally, a fourth man touched the elephant’s trunk and exclaimed, “It’s a snake!”
It’s an amusing story that we’ve all heard before, but no matter how many times we hear it, we still struggle to truly take its message to heart. In the story, the blind men represent us, and the elephant represents God. We all grasp to understand God, and we all get a glimpse of who He is, but if we’re not careful, we can fall into the trap of assuming that the glimpse of God that we are capable of seeing is all there is to Him, and that everyone else should see Him the exact same way. And like the blind men, we end up shouting foolish things at each other instead of trying to understand the greater truth in front of us.
I’ve recently been reading the book of Job, and it reminded me of the reality of this problem. In the story, Job, a godly man, loses all of his earthly possessions, most of his family, and his own health in a very short period of time. While he is mourning, his friends come to comfort him, but instead they engage in grand theological debates about why Job is suffering even though he claims to have done no wrong. Job and his three friends argue until finally they run out of things to say. And then, Elihu, the youngest of the group, breaks the silence that he’s been exercising throughout the entire ordeal and calls all of them out.
Now I like Elihu. He’s the only of of Job’s friends that I approve of. When he steps forward to speak, he doesn’t try to convince Job that he has done something wrong to deserve his punishment like Job’s other friends did. He simply tells Job and his friends that their arguments are meaningless because they’re all based on inadequate understandings of God. You see, Job and his friends had fallen into the trap of thinking they completely understood God. They each had their own definitions of who God is and how He should work, and they refused to allow room for anything else. But Elihu pointed out the arrogance of these arguments.
“Stop and consider the wondrous works of God. Do you know how God lays His command upon them and causes the lightning of His cloud to shine? Do you know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge, you whose garments are hot when the earth is still because of the south wind? Can you, like Him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror? Teach us what we shall say to Him; we cannot draw up our case because of darkness.” —Job 37:14–19
Elihu points out that there is always more to God than we can understand. Whatever we know about God, there is more to Him than that. Always. Even if we spend our entire lives trying to learn everything about Him, He is infinitely more complex and amazing than we could possibly imagine. How awesome a God is that?
So what do we do then? Do we give up on understanding God? Do we resort, as some people have, to defining God only by what He is not (such as, “God is not evil”)? No! We are each created with a deep yearning to know God and to be known by Him, and we can’t let the fact that God is not completely knowable stop us from seeking to learn as much about Him as we can. It’s in our DNA. He wants us to desire to know Him more. And so like the blind men in the story should have done, we collaborate with each other as we explore who God is to the best of our abilities.
And God has given us plenty of ways to know Him. On the most basic level, He makes Himself known through the awe and wonder of the universe. We can find Him in nature, in the stars, in a simple sunset. He also makes Himself known in us. He created each of us with a piece of Himself built in, and so we can seek to know Him better by trying to find Him reflected in those around us. He has revealed Himself through His living word, the Bible. We can study the scriptures and continually find out new things about Him there. He reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit, that still, small voice inside every Christian that guides us, reprimands us when we need it, and ultimately shows us more about who God is. And finally, He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We can read about Him, talk to Him, and have a relationship with Him in which we know Him and are known by Him. What could be more fulfilling than that?
As we seek to learn more about God, we should always be careful not to fall into trap of thinking we understand exactly who God is, that we have the definition of God and everyone else is wrong. I think Brant Hansen (my all-time favorite Air1 radio host) put it best when he said, “If you think you completely understand God, then the God you worship doesn’t exist.” The God we serve is infinitely vast, infinitely complex, and infinitely wonderful. We should celebrate that as we seek to know Him more and ultimately become more like Him.