A while back, I was talking with a colleague who is Indian, and practices the Hindu faith. At the time, we were in India, and he was showing me some of the temples in the region.
While traveling, he told me about the story of the blind men and the elephant. I’d heard the illustration before, but in this case, my colleague explained it as how we are each limited to a partial understanding of a God that is too great for anyone to understand, and that we may all come to a different – and equally-valid – conclusion about God, from our own perception.
There are certainly parts of that illustration that I can agree with. For instance, I believe in a God that is transcendent – separate from the created world – and who is so much greater than us that we cannot fully comprehend who He is. I can’t argue that, left to our own devices, humanity has come up with a lot of concepts about God’s nature, many of which are contradictory and mutually exclusive.
After that conversation, though, I realized that there is another option – another possible piece to the puzzle: Certainly, we are indeed unable to understand God fully (since, a being great enough to be God must be so much beyond us). However, despite our limitations, the other possibility is that God could actually tell us what He is like.
Although God is beyond my ability to seek out and understand, I believe that He went to the effort to explain to humankind what He is like…as much as we could handle. In addition to what we can observe about the Creator from the world around us, He chose to explain specific things about Himself to us, though.*
In fact, I believe that He went one step further – after telling mankind about His nature (in words we could grasp), He came to live among us. Jesus was both fully human (see Hebrews 2:14-15), allowing us to relate to him; and he was fully God (Philippians 2:6), allowing us to understand more about God’s nature by observing Him.
There is still a component to our experiences that molds how much we understand of God, and I’m confident that some people pay better attention to what God is teaching about Himself, so in that sense, each of us understands God to a different – albeit finite – level. However, no matter our experiences or how much we have studied God, there are some characteristics that we can – and must – agree upon, based on a common revelation from God Himself. Like my Hindu friend, I am certain that God does not change based on our understanding of Him.
So, let us be careful to not impose our own opinions about God on others, but instead invest in learning the divinely-shared facts about Him, from all of the ways that He has revealed attributes of Himself to us. We won’t comprehend God entirely with our finite minds here on earth, but we can learn a little more about Him each day. Soak up some of God’s word today, and let others (including me, if you don’t mind) know what you learn about Him.
For more reading, see also:
- Purveyors of fancy church words will recognize these as “general revelation” and “specific revelation”. Search for those terms if you would like to learn more about each. For a good example from Scripture, see Romans 1:20 (or, in context, read Romans 1:18-32, to learn what happens when the obvious messages from God are ignored).