The Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant Retold
The shocking claim of Christianity is that God Himself became one of us.
A parable is sometimes told about some blind men who wanted to know what an elephant was like. So, they found an elephant. The various men touched the different parts of the elephant and reported that the elephant was like different things. For example, the man holding the ear said an elephant was like a fan. The blind men disagreed because they did not have the perspective to see where they all agreed. This parable is told in defense of relativism when it comes to religion: we are all talking about the same God even though we all disagree with each other. No one is right, and no one is wrong. Just as no blind man has the perspective to see all of God, so none of us has the perspective to claim to know all about God and declare all the rest wrong. The story acts as an argument by analogy. Everyone is right about God, even though we all disagree. That, at least, is how the story is usually presented.
When I first heard the story I realized right away that, if continued, it acts as a great argument for the perspective of Christianity. It is true that we are blind men as long as we are working on our own efforts to learn what God is like. In that case, there are some things we can know about God, but we are very limited. Christianity creates a different ending to the story.
So, I rewrote the story and added the appropriate ending. The following retelling of the story is an excerpt from The Wise Guy and the Fool, which is comprised mainly of dialogues and short allegorical stories illustrating aspects of philosophy and Catholic apologetics. The illustration is by Brother François, CFR.
A blind man asked his blind friends what an elephant was like. His friends did not know. So, they found an elephant.
One of the men was holding the trunk and said, “An elephant is like a snake.”
Another was holding the ear. “An elephant is like a fan.”
A third was holding a leg. “An elephant is like a tree.”
Still, a fourth was holding the tail and replied, “An elephant is like a broom.”
The blind men began to yell at each other, claiming the others were all wrong, and they could not come to any agreement.
So, the elephant took it upon himself to become a blind man. He tried gently to let them know what he was like, expressing as best he could the mystery that is an elephant to men who cannot see. But the blind men disagreed with him also, rejecting the truth of the elephant and then ultimately killing the elephant who became a blind man.
A blind but insane friend of the blind men heard the commotion and came where they were. They explained to him what had happened, and he offered two ideas: there is no elephant, or they were all correct. Each blind man chose an idea for himself, and they all became a-elephant-ists or new age relativists.
The shocking claim of Christianity is that God Himself became one of us. He didn’t leave us to figure Him out for ourselves. He doesn’t just give us a book or some other type of mere description, but he presents Himself to us in the most relatable and intimate way, as another human being. He became a man, and He became Man. Infants begin looking at faces right away. We are all looking for the Face of God, and Jesus is that Face in his very person.