The Blind Men and the Elephant


FOR A WHOLE LOT of years, I’ve enjoyed what American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887) wrote about an old fable from the country of India. He called it “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”

In my book, nothing is a better caution against becoming too opinionated, too dogmatic, too utterly certain of one’s own inerrant rightness. And that can be true of organizations—even Churches—as well as of people:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft, in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Each, partly in the right. Yet all—wrong. So . . . pastors, theologians, church members, editors, bloggers—all of us—we do well to dial down the absolute certainty that how we see truth is THE right way.

We do well to retain a healthy quantity of humility, knowing that our eyes our too blinded to see the wholeness of Truth—so there’s likely a lot more to this Elephant that God still has to show us, than what we’ve already “seen.”


2 responses to this post.

  1. Hey Ken:

    I have edited several of Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi’s books, as well as helped on Dr. Graham Brandford’s recent EGW book, and am trying my hand and writing myself now. Hence, I am interested in your input on a series I started myself titled “The Trouble With The Elephant.”

    I have two questions for you:

    1. Would you check it out an let me know what you think?

    The Trouble With The Elephant, I

    The Trouble With The Elephant, II

    The Trouble With The Elephant, III

    2. May I use your picture above (in this post) in the body of my text on the subject? I am happy to provide a link back to your article here.


  2. The artwork in the post is one I found in a photo search….and I believe it to be in public domain. Therefore, feel free to use it as I have. If I’m wrong, then we can share a cell in the slammer!

    I’m currently overloaded with some work (as you can see, I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks now). But soon I’ll check your Elephant posts and give you some feedback.

    All the best!


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