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The Problem of the Divine Elephant

September 9, 2013

Last year I did a study series for our mid-week meeting, based on common objections to the gospel; one day the topic was “The Problem of Other Religions”. Why is that a problem? Well, because a lot of people wonder why, if there is only one God, there are so many other religions and belief systems. Aren’t we just a tad arrogant saying that Jesus is the only way to God?

You may already have come across the elephant allegory, a very common argument against our intolerance. It goes like this: four blind men discover an elephant. Since they have never encountered an elephant, they grope about, trying to understand this new thing. One grasps the trunk and concludes it is a snake. Another explores a leg and describes it as a tree. A third finds the tail and announces that it is a rope. And the fourth blind man, after discovering the elephant’s side, concludes that it is actually a wall. But despite their differing descriptions, they are actually describing the same thing: an elephant.

Conclusion: all religions describe the same spiritual reality, but only part of it. Despite the differences between religions, all of us – Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists etc – are really describing the same ultimate reality, and thus it doesn’t matter which one you follow.

Sounds nice and enlightened – until you start thinking about it. It doesn’t make sense. For one thing, the four blind men aren’t all correct; they are all wrong! What they are exploring is neither a snake, a tree, a rope, nor a wall; it’s an elephant. So the only thing that story could possibly prove is that it doesn’t matter which religion you follow, because they’re all mistaken anyway…

Secondly, the elephant is obviously totally uninterested in the men. It just stands there, letting them discover what they can, neither encouraging them nor helping them, not even caring whether they get it right or not…

What a different story from the one the Bible tells us! It shows us a loving God who wants us to find him and actively reveals himself to us – even to the point of living on earth as a human being, taking our sins upon himself to make it possible for us to know him. The only way those blind men will know the truth about the elephant is if they regain their sight – and that’s what Jesus does: he opens blinded eyes and enables us to see the truth. Other religions may try and grope their way to God; surely it’s better to follow Jesus the Son of God who is himself the one and only way.

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From → Christianity, Faith, Jesus

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