Elephant in the Room
Pop quiz time: What is the capital of Minnesota? All citizens of this great state know the answer, right? If you know the correct answer then you, by default, also know the incorrect answers. Grand Rapids is not the capital of Minnesota. Duluth is not the capital of Minnesota. This is not a matter of opinion, but of fact. Everyone knows the capital of Minnesota is the letter M.
Or what about this: What shape is the Earth? If you know the shape of the Earth, then you also know what shape the Earth is not. If it’s round, then it is not square, or a pyramid, or donut-shaped—though that would be delicious.
So, what if you met a friend who insisted that Grand Rapids is the capital of Minnesota or believed that the Earth is flat. You might engage in a little debate regarding why you believe what you do and you could appeal to all the evidence that weighs heavily in your favor. This would be good and right when it comes to the facts of life. This is where disagreement can lead to fruitful discovery of a truth for your friend who was previously in the wrong. One could say that pointing out wrong belief is an act of love. Could we all agree that we want our thinking to be aligned with reality? Would you like to believe the Earth is flat if it really isn’t? The hard part for many of us is that we often have a hard time separating fact from opinion. No one is really arguing about where the capital of Minnesota is, but we do argue about subjective realities like if we should listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving, or whether we should have that weird cranberry jelly at the Thanksgiving table, and whether we should live in Minnesota at all when it snows every 18 seconds.
Now what do we make about different beliefs in God? Some have argued that this is completely a matter of opinion. How can we know who God is and what He is like? There is an old parable that tells the story of a group of blindfolded men who are asked to describe an elephant. One man touches the trunk and says the elephant is like a snake. Another feels his ear and claims the elephant is like fan. A third man touches the elephant’s leg and says the elephant is like a strong tree. Another man touches the tail and proclaims the elephant is like a rope. The story is intended to paint a picture of our limitations in describing God. While this parable seems to be respectful of all religions, it fails to adequately describe the issue. It hinges on the fact that the narrator is not blind and can therefore see the entire elephant. Religions each claim to be able to see the whole picture. So, a more accurate parable might be to say that one religion says the animal is a rhinoceros, and another claims it’s a hippopotamus, and another religion says it’s an elephant. To say that religions just get different aspects of God right is to say that we don’t take what they have to say seriously. For someone to simply say, “I disagree with you about this,” need not be disrespectful or unkind. Indeed, when examined more closely, attempting to persuade other to change their beliefs is a sign of respect.
So, the next question is can we actually see the elephant? Or can we accurately know what God is like? Christians hold that Scripture accurately removes the blindfold. After all, if God is all-powerful and all-knowing then it follows that He could adequately reveal Himself to people. And Scripture is clear that it is written by God and reveals this very God to us. God declares, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right…Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:19,22).
And so, the elephant in the room for every religion is Jesus. Was this ancient Jew from Palestine who lived 2000 years ago really God in the flesh? Either this is true or it’s not. If it didn’t happen, then Christians should be pitied more than anyone else (1 Corinthians 15:19). If He was God, then this should have profound impact on my life because of the things He said such as, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Seriously, who says things like that! Either He was a crazy man, or He was telling the truth. While it has been quipped that science is true whether or not you believe it is, this maxim is not limited to science, but anything that is true. There are certain realities that don’t fit into the “true-for-me-but-not-for-you” bucket. If I shoot a basketball at a hoop and miss, I do not get to count two points for my team as if the real score is in my head, not on the scoreboard. God says there will be winners and there will be losers.
As in all things, we are still called to love those who disagree with us. This is something else the Bible is clear about. “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (1 Timothy 2:24-25). So, that’s my goal in all of this. Point out the problem, then lovingly point to the Solution so that some may come to their senses.