Understand is a verb
In the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, Jesus tells of four categories of people who “hear the word” of the kingdom and how they are distinguished by their responses to it. One “falls away” because of tribulation or persecution, another allows the word to be “choked” because of worldly cares and desires. The other two are marked by their understanding, or lack of it. The one who understands bears fruit from the word sown in “good soil.” The one who does not has the word “snatched away.”
It initially struck me as a bit unfair that the one who lacked understanding missed out and seemingly is judged for his lack. But that’s because I was operating on a presumption that understanding was basically out of our control…either you understand or you don’t. The word “understand,” however, is a verb; it’s something we do. The Greek word translated here as understand means to put together, to consider. So not to understand, at least in this context, means to fail or refuse to actively consider the truth about God that one hears or reads.
With this in mind, I am reposting from last September Truth is an elephant. And I have the approval of Jesus himself because as he says in Matthew 13:52, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 😉
TRUTH IS AN ELEPHANT
A stand for truth is becoming increasingly rare in today’s relativistic society, where your truth doesn’t have to be my truth and everything can be true, which of course means nothing is. A seeking after truth is also more frequently being seen as an outdated and rejected discipline. And a refusal to acknowledge truth when it’s staring you in the face, willfully closing one’s eyes lest they see, has to be one of our generation’s greatest sins.
There’s a well-known parable about six blind men and an elephant. The parable is designed to demonstrate that truth is relative and no one religion has the truth, and it goes like this: Six blind men are standing next to an elephant and touching different parts of the elephant’s body. The one touching its tusk thinks, “This is a spear.” The one holding its trunk thinks it’s a snake. Another grabs an ear and believes he’s got a fan. A fourth blind man wraps his arms around a leg and thinks it’s a tree; another leans on the animal’s side and “sees” a wall; and the guy on the end grabs the tail and figures he’s holding a rope.
So, the moral of the story is that multiple religions or worldviews can all have the truth; they just each see it from a different perspective. But here’s the problem with that conclusion: the truth is that each of the blind men was touching an elephant and they all got it wrong. None of them had the truth.
I’d like to carry that parable a little further, because I see in each of the sincere but sincerely wrong beliefs a reason why people choose to be blind to the truth.
The spear represents power. People and religions who get ahold of it do not want to let it go. It’s intoxicating, and they like it.
The snake is pride. “You will be like God,” the serpent said to Adam and Eve in the garden. We want to believe that we are the masters of a universe which our superior intelligence will someday have all figured out, and our inherent goodness will make a utopian world for all mankind.
I see the fan as representative of sensuality. It feels good and…you know the mantra…if it feels good, do it. And if it doesn’t feel good, I don’t want to know about it.
The tree hugger . . . that’s idolatry, worshipping the creation rather than the Creator – anything that doesn’t hold us accountable or make any demands of us.
The guy who thinks he’s leaning on a wall is lazy and apathetic. He’s happy just believing what feels comfortable.
I see the rope as reins and the most common reason we refuse to see. We want to be in control of our own lives, turning left or right as we see fit.
God has given us plenty of evidence of his existence in what he has made, in the record of his dealings with men, in our own consciences, and in the Person of his Son, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. Those who reject that evidence will have no excuse when they stand before their Maker, contrary to Bertrand Russell’s oft-quoted rejoinder.
So the moral of my take on the parable is this: an elephant is pretty big and hard to miss . . . unless you want to.
None of the blind men are justified in coming to the conclusions that they reach. Given the bounds of their knowledge, are any of them justified in coming to an elephant-conclusion? The parable has always seemed to me a wonderful argument against holding any theory of truth.
Hello again, Keith. Thanks for your input. Am I to assume then that you hold no theory of truth?
A deflationary notion, is all.
Well, I had to refer to my Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview to remind myself of what a deflationary theory of truth is. So, is it accurate to say that you believe “there is no such property or relation as truth”?
Maybe that’s how a realist would put it (and has, I suspect), so it misses the mark. The realist would also claim that a minimalist account insists that there is no mark to hit – also a mischaracterization, and a conceptually telling one.
Rather, the application of the labels ‘property’ or fixed ‘relation’ to truth does not apply in the realist sense. Those labels and their attendant theories can categorize, but not capture truth.
It is true, for instance, that the blind men’s elephant is the same as the sighted person’s elephant, but not precisely, not realistically.
Well, I’m not interested nor schooled enough in antirealist theories, so I’ll blissfully stick with the common sense understanding that there is such a thing as truth and that it can be rationally apprehended.
Sure. The point is: our knowledge is all squishy, to varying extents. We have to be careful about thinking our conclusions are solid, things-in-themselves.
If we forget that, we end up across the line between reason and rationalization – like the blind men, or the sighted person who laughs at them and says, “Can’t they see? That’s plainly an elephant!”.
Finally I see someone who agrees with what I think about religion. Thank you! Yes, truly, nowadays religion is seen as the basis of faith for many religions but I also realized that what if each religion understood just a part of what is true about faith? of what is true about God? Religion is a mere medium of knowledge about God, but it is the individual himself who will develop and engage himself fully to an eternal relationship with God. 🙂 ♥
Thanks for reading and commenting, handian. May you continue drawing ever nearer to Him.