Most of us have heard the story about the blind men and the elephant. I heard it in a world religion class in 1978, my first year of college. The story is most often told in the context of the world religions. And, the story is most often told as an allegory suggesting that all religions are really getting at the same thing (the elephant).
If you haven’t heard the story, I will re-tell it. If you have heard the story, please bear with me because telling the story with its original conclusion is an important exercise in understanding the message.
If your antennae are up, you might have caught the hint that this story, with the original conclusion, has a twist. The story usually isn’t told with the original conclusion, so the point of the original conclusion is often “lost in the translation”. And, the original conclusion leads to a very different point than the commonly asserted message.
The usual takeaway from the story is that all religions are really getting at a single truth, even though they seem to be revealing different truths. Hold that thought for the moment while we review the story.
The story involves an elephant and various blind men who come upon the elephant. The first man feels the side of the elephant and announces that he has found a wall. The second man finds a leg and proclaims that they have haven’t run into a wall, but have found a tree. Meanwhile, a third blind man finds the tail. Thinking that both of his companions are fools, he states with the confidence of personal experience that they have actually stumbled upon a snake. The men take to arguing over their very different conclusions, and their arguments get more and more heated until they come to blows.
This is where the story usually ends. There are different variations. Some versions of the story describe blind men alternately finding a tusk, an ear or the trunk, but the point is all the same. The blind men are all feeling and experiencing the same animal, but their different experiences lead them to different conclusions. They are all right, but none of them see the whole elephant. Their experiences are all different depending on which part of the elephant they encounter, and all of them stubbornly hold to their own, limited perspectives.
Because the story almost inevitably ends there, the conclusion that is usually reached is that the elephant is like religious truth. Everyone encounters religious truth from different angles, and religious truth seems different to everyone who encounters it because we all encounter it from our own unique positions in relation to the whole. We shouldn’t, therefore, judge others or think that our truth is any better or truer than someone else’s truth.
But the oldest version of the story didn’t end where the modern versions usually end. In the oldest version of the story, a Raja is standing on the balcony above the blind men as they argue and fight over what have encountered. The Raja finally interrupts them and announces to them that they are all fighting over an elephant, but they all think it is something different because they are blind and each of them are only encountering a portion of the elephant.
The usual, modern message is one of pluralism. As my college professor put it, the point is that “all roads lead to the top of the same mountain”.
So, how does original conclusion convey a different message from the more modern conclusion that stops before the Raja enters the picture?
The blind men needed the Raja to tell them what they were encountering. The blind man needed someone who had the advantage of sight and distance and height to describe for them that they were encountering an elephant.
We are the blind men, of course. We are finite beings in a world that is vastly older and greater than any of us and all of us combined. In fact, we are like mist in the winds of time and space. And if there be a God who created it that God is beyond all of time, space and matter that makes up the substance of this world. Only He has the perspective to “see the elephant”. We certainly do not.
We have done a pretty good job of discovering and chronicling the time, space and matter of the universe (as far as we know), but we can’t see beyond it. We can see all the way to the moment after the Big Bang, but reality before that instant is (and probably always will be) a mystery to us. We also can’t see what God sees, and we can’t know what God knows.
We need a Raja to describe the elephant (the ultimate Truth) for us. We can’t know it by our own efforts because we don’t have the vantage point of the Raja.
Unlike the elephant, which the blind men could eventually discover in all of its detail, we cannot know all there is to know about the universe or what is beyond the universe. We can’t see what was before the Big Bang. We won’t be around when the energy in the present universe winds down to the point where it can’t sustain life any longer, and we won’t be around after life is no longer able to survive.
Though we are pretty good at discovering and understanding the things that we can know, we don’t know what we don’t know.
We can’t go beyond space, time and matter to see or know what God sees and knows… unless, like the Raja, He reveals it to us.
We need a Raja – God – to reveal ultimate truth to us.
But who would that be? Many people have come claiming to be Rajas. Search the world religions, and there is one that stands out. There is one man who claims to have been from beyond time, space and matter. There is one man who died and rose from the dead and appeared in that once dead body to his followers, demonstrating his transcendence over time, space and matter.
That one man claimed to be God, and that man claimed to be the only way to God. If he did rise from the dead and appear to his followers in the flesh, we might accept his claims on that basis. If this man didn’t rise from the dead or appear to his followers, his words are vanity, meaningless and utterly of no account.
Anyone who is confused about his own deity should not be given the time of day. But, if that man did rise from the dead, we dare not dismiss him because such a feat suggests he was who he claimed to be. This man, Jesus, is our Raja.
 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He [This one] was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:1-5, 9-13)(NASB)
 “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, … he was buried, … he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and … he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)(ESV)
 “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’” (John 14:6)(ESV)
 “[I]f Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile….” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17)(ESV)