How would you describe an elephant? To me, elephants are gray, and generally calm. They are plodding, steadfast, and they nurture their young. They generally live in herds, and they can work together to accomplish important tasks for the livelihood of their ecosystem. I really like the symbol of the elephant. Studying them is also fascinating. However, none of this is why I say that God is like an elephant.
When I say that God is like an elephant, I am making an analogy to his greatness. Elephants are immense creatures. Of course, God is even greater, but the analogy I wish to make is nonetheless better made with the example of an elephant.
Imagine that you are an artist at a zoo, having never before seen an elephant. You are faced with a wall when you come to where the elephant should be. A sign indicates that, in order to see the elephant, you must look through a peephole in the wall. You notice that there are small peepholes located high and low along the wall, scattered out at different distances. Many other artists are at peepholes, looking through to see the elephant. You choose a vacant peephole and look through, longing to see what an elephant looks like, so that you may paint your masterpiece.
Looking through the peephole, you see a large gray cylinder with a crackled surface. As you continue to gaze, you see it sway slightly. Excited, you rush back to your studio and begin to recreate what you have seen. Soon, you have a beautiful painting of a gray cylinder, with a uniquely designed crackle pattern. You just know that you have perfectly captured the image of an elephant and you can already see the trophy you will win for your life-like painting.
Wrapping the painting carefully, you proudly take it to the contest venue. You place it carefully on the easel for the judges to see, then you turn and stroll through the facility, looking at the other paintings of an elephant.
With growing confusion, you realize that the other artists really have no talent at all. You grow arrogant, thinking to yourself, I am definitely winning this contest! The other paintings look nothing like the elephant you saw through that peephole.
One painting has the same texture, the gray and the crackled surface, but the shape is just off. The artist drew it long and slender, almost snakelike, suspended in midair, with a split end, and it appears to be spewing a cloud of dust. You chuckle, shaking your head. “That is definitely NOT an elephant!” you mumble.
A few steps away, you see another painting, this one just the gray, crackled texture, with a few stems of grass in front of it and some artistic shading. You think to yourself that maybe the artist was attempting an up close version of the elephant.
As the judges assemble to announce the winner, there is silence. Slowly, each judge carries one of the paintings and begins to hang them together, side by side on the wall, some above and some below. As more and more paintings are hung in this fashion, a new view unfolds, and the crowd gasps collectively.
Someone goes to the microphone and gestures to all of the paintings, hung together. “This, my friends, is an elephant.”
Suddenly you feel foolish, realizing that you only painted the back leg of an elephant. You were not the sole winner after all! The judges hand out trophies to each of the artists and you realize that it took all of you together to capture the immense portrait of the elephant because he was simply too big to be seen through one small hole.
In the same manner, many Christian groups have claimed to have the only saving knowledge of who God is. They look down on other groups and make derisive comments about how they have just simply “missed the boat”. They refer to others outside of their group collectively as “the world” or “sinners”, claiming to have some superior connection with God and His character.
I will never forget, upon leaving the cult I grew up in, being told by a preacher, “What are you in search of? You already have all the truth there is to know.” I responded that if I ever think I know everything there is to know about God, I will have just proved my ignorance.
God cannot be put in a box. Only by walking through that wall and getting to the other side of eternity will we ever be able to see Him fully in all His Glory and truly know everything that He is. It is arrogant and foolish to think that any one group of human beings has all the truth they need to know about God, especially while they are still on this side of the wall, looking through a peephole.
I Corinthians 13:12 was speaking about this idea when it stated “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (New Living Translation)
It is by sharing what we have seen, and getting together with others who see God a bit differently, that we get a glimpse of His attributes.
You can read a book about elephants. Without a picture to see him, you still cannot draw an accurate image. In the same way, the Bible tells us much about God, but it is through knowing Him, and fellowship with other believers who have a slightly different view of Him, that we truly are enriched to know more about Him.
Never again will I be drawn into the cult-like thinking that only the people in this little box have a handle on God. God is too big and too grand to ever fit inside human delineation. We show that we are growing by acknowledging what we do not know. I will never know everything about God until I pass to the other side of life and see Him face to face. Neither will you.