Spiritual Sunday: The Blind Men and The Elephant (and God and Church and Marriage)

In the Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant we learn that we are often blinded to reality by what we connect with.  This parable extends to God, church and our spouses.

Spiritual Sundays are back!  Last year, I started doing a spiritual Sunday post once a month, but got out of the habit.  This year, I want to get back into it.  I really enjoy writing my thoughts about God and religion.  It is an important part of me.  And if you aren’t religious, that’s fine, I’ll always try to tie the topic into marriage at the end.  You can skip ahead if you’d like.  I’ll never know 😉     – Celeste

God as an elephant

I’ve often wondered which God in the scriptures is the most accurate depiction of God. Because they are very different. In the Old Testament, we get a version of God that is rather strict- lots of rules and punishments, lots of expectations to serve Him or else suffer the consequences. Contrast that with the God of the New Testament, and you get a picture of a very loving and forgiving God who wants nothing more than to help us come home to Him.

So which is it? Strict and tight-fisted? Or easy-going and forgiving?

I’ve thought a lot about this because who God is affects how I see myself and how I’m doing on my life goal to serve Him. There are potential pitfalls for me either way. If/when I see Him as the vengeful, strict God- I become prone to guilt-overload and worrying about not measuring up thinking He is easily disappointed with my weaknesses. If/when I see him as the kind and forgiving type, I get comfortable thinking that God will love me no matter what I do or don’t do and I don’t push myself to be better.

So it is an important question for me- which is He? The tight-fisted version or the easy-going version?

And I’ve come to the conclusion that I think He gets to be both (and is certainly not reduced to my interpretation of Him).

Let me explain with a fable story from India about six blind men and an elephant.

The story goes like this- there were once six blind men who had heard of elephants but had never met one. So, they decide to go to the prince’s palace to meet an elephant. They each approach the elephant one by one and each touch a different part of the elephant and consequently get very different ideas of what an elephant is.

The first man touches only the elephant’s side, senses that it is strong and wide and thinks an elephant is like a wall. The second only makes contact with the elephant’s long, round trunk and thinks an elephant is like a snake. The third connects with it’s sharp tusk and thinks an elephant is like a spear. The fourth touches the elephant’s round, firm leg and thinks it is like a tree. The fifth examines the elephant’s thin, floppy ear and thinks it is like a fan, and the sixth, who only touches the tail thinks it is like a rope.

The Blind Men and The Elephant

via Wikipedia

A wall, snake, spear, tree, fan and rope are six VERY different interpretations. When the men all come back together they start arguing, amazed that the others could be so different and wrong until the prince comes out and says that they are all right and they are all wrong. They had each only connected with ONE part and to know what an elephant is really like, you must put all the parts together.

I think God is like the elephant and we are the blind men. We make contact with one part and assume that is how He is. Often, I try to interpret God as only one, simple character trait, but no one I know displays only one personality trait, so how I can I expect God to?

I would hate to have someone judge me on only one side of me.  For instance if someone saw me at the store giving a punishment to one of my children who was acting out, and never saw me again, they would have a very different idea of what kind of parent I am than if they saw me at home snuggling with my kids while reading to them.  I get to be both a disciplinarian and a generous mother.  I also get to be many, many other things.

The point is God is complex and we do Him a great disservice when we reduce Him to only one quality.

For now, I can choose to connect with as many parts of Him as possible to try to get a better perspective, but the full picture won’t be displayed for me here. Until it is, I have faith that He both expects a lot from me AND is very loving and forgiving.

Church as an elephant

This analogy I think extends well into the construct of church also. I’m part of the LDS faith, but the analogy extends just as well to any church.

People have VERY different experiences with church. For every commandment, custom, practice and belief, you get experiences and opinions all over the gamut. To some it is stifling and constricting, to others its uplifting and heart-warming. I don’t think any are dishonest in their interpretation, so how can there be such different interpretations and experiences with the same organization?

To some church is sharp and pokey like a spear, to others it is flexible and graceful like a fan. Some insist that church is small and tough like a rope, to others it is as expansive and strong as a wall.

The Blind Men and The Elephant

Well, church can be all of these things at times and to different people. It doesn’t mean their interpretation or experience is wrong because it differs from ours. Nor that it shouldn’t elicit our empathy and understanding.

The good news is that YOU get to choose which part of the elephant YOU will make contact with. Which part you will focus on and connect with the most. Unfortunately, you don’t get to make that decision for anyone else. But I find it heartening that though I am blind, I can listen to other’s experiences while still connecting with the part of the elephant that strengthens me most.

Spouse as an elephant

Just as God or a church isn’t one-dimensional or defined by one trait, your spouse isn’t either.

Most likely, this isn’t news to you. I’d bet you’re well acquainted with your spouse’s sweet side, exhausted side, hilarious side and hangry (hungry/angry) side by now.

But just like the blind men were blind to the reality of what an elephant really is, it is easy for us to be blinded by who our spouse really is. We can be blinded to what they are going through, their struggles, pains, and anxieties. Particularly when we find our spouse difficult to get along with, it is always tempting to define them by just one of their less-flattering characteristics (You are always so inconsiderate!). But that is often not the whole picture.

It can be a scary thing when your spouse’s sharp and pokey parts are making themselves seen.  Just keep in mind the graceful, strong and sweet parts are still there too. It just may take a little contact and connection with those parts to bring them to the forefront.

So instead of seeing your spouse through a one-dimensional lens, try connecting with some of their other sides that maybe don’t come out as much- their funny side or spiritual side or appreciative side.

Remember, you get to decide which side you will make contact with the most, which side you will focus on, and which side will you define them by.

Let’s make it the best in them instead of the worst.

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