The Elephant and the Blind Men

The tale of the blind men and the elephant is quite old, though we do not know exactly when or where it came to be told. The tale is usually told like this:

“A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first man, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake”. Another, whose hand reached its ear, said “it seemed like a kind of fan”. As for another, whose hand was upon its leg, said, “the elephant is a pillar, like a tree trunk”. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said that the elephant “is like a wall”. Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk and stated that the elephant was hard, smooth, and like a spear.”

The tale’s purpose is to expose the limits of man’s perceptions and how important it is for us to know the whole context of a matter. When left at that, it is a good message. The problem is when people go beyond the point of the tale and use this against the absolute truth of God’s word. Nowadays, those who reject that there is absolute truth and deny that there is only one way to God are using this story to prove their point. They say that truth is relative, just like how the blind men all described the elephant in totally different ways, but they were all talking about the same elephant. They say in application that there are many ways to get to God, just as the blind men came to know the elephant through different ways. And anyone who says that there is only one absolute truth and only one way to heaven is accused by them as simply being a blind fool who thinks they have it all figured out like any one of the blind men in the story.

First, it is very dangerous to prove one’s view of religion based on an analogy! Second, the details of the tale actually work against the idea that truth is relative. Think about it, someone uses this story to prove that no one has the whole truth, but like the blind men, we have just a small piece of the whole. This, they say, is why we should be accepting of all beliefs, and we ought to coexist. But they have neglected a very important detail of the story: each one of those blind men were flat-out wrong in the “truth” they told about the elephant. The elephant was not like a tree, wall, fan, snake, etc. Their views were all erroneous and should be rejected. If someone believed that elephants were of the same family and likeness as the snake, then they would fail grade school; their belief would be intolerable because we have all seen enough of an elephant to know that their belief is just plain false.

There is another problem with using the story to prove the acceptability of all faiths and many ways to God, I’d say this is the most important consideration of all. While focusing on all the blind men in the story, there is someone else that is often neglected and not even considered: the narrator. The storyteller was there to report all that the blind men did and thought concerning the elephant. The storyteller was not blind. The storyteller saw the whole elephant and understood exactly what the elephant really was. The storyteller could see the whole truth of the matter, it was, in fact, absolute truth. So, suppose we honestly consider all the players in the story. In that case, we will see that there are a group of men whose “relative truth” that they told concerning the elephant was all falsehood, and there was a bystander that could easily see the absolute truth concerning the elephant. This way, we could properly apply this story to the various views of God and salvation. Today, there are many who are blind, who trust in their own private interpretation of religion. Others have considered the many inconsistencies of man’s beliefs and have concluded that truth is relative, but they failed to realize that there are still others that are not blind to the evidence and all the revealed word of God, and these are able to testify to the absolute truth of God’s word, thus rejecting all the notions of relative truth from the spiritually blind.

Even Pilate scoffed at the idea of absolute truth when he asked Jesus “What is truth?” (John 18:38). But Jesus said that the very reason why He came into the world was so that He “should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37). And again, Jesus bore witness to the fact that there is absolute truth when he said to the Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). So if what we believe is not in accordance with the Father’s revealed word, it cannot be the truth. We must conclude that there are not many ways to get to God when we hear that the one who died for us and was raised in power said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Further, his disciples said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). God’s word gives us the full picture of the proverbial elephant when it explains our existence, our sin, our need for a Savior, who our Savior is, and how to get back into fellowship with God through Him. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The scriptures explain that salvation came by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:5), and that, through our faith in the Savior (Ephesian 2:8), we would obey His will (Matthew 7:21), and turn from our sins (Acts 3:19), confess His name (Romans 10:9), be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins (Acts 2:38), and begin to walk in step with the word of God (Galatians 5:25). This is absolute truth. To say that salvation is by only some of these things (whether just grace or just faith) is not relative truth, it is falsehood. May we not be spiritually blind, but always strive to see the whole truth as revealed by God in His word.

Article by Tanner Campbell