There is an ancient Indian parable on religion that has become widely recycled throughout our modern world. It is the parable of the blind men and the elephant. In this story there are several blind men who come upon an elephant for the first time and each takes hold of the elephant in order to learn what the elephant is like by “experiencing” it through touch. This episode starts an argument between the blind men over what the elephant is like:
“It is a fan,” says the blind man touching the elephant’s ears.
“No, it is a spear,” says the blind man holding the elephant’s tusk.
Likewise, each blind man experiences the elephant differently – the trunk being a snake, the legs are trees, the body is a wall, the tail is a rope. The object of the parable is to explain that in essence all religions and views of God are equal. We all experience God differently, but all experiences are equally true so no one has exclusive claim on the truth of who God is and what God is like. Different religions simply become various legitimate paths that all lead us to experience the same God in different ways. To claim that any one religion is true is like a blind man arguing that he knows what an elephant is like when he doesn’t have the whole picture of reality.
The parable begins well enough – we are all blind – that much is true! Not only are we limited in our creaturehood, but we are also sinners separated from a holy God blind to his glory revealed in creation. Thankfully, however, God is not an elephant. The parable, much like the world, would have us believe in a God who simply exists for our exploration but has little to do with our daily lives. If we find something interesting or helpful in our blindness then we are free to choose which part of the elephant to hold onto but if we never stumble upon the elephant at all then our lives would be little changed. We certainly aren’t in any way accountable to the elephant for our thoughts, words, and actions! Our culture would have us grope around like blind men hoping in our desires, feelings, and in things that can be felt and touched leaving each person to decide for themselves what is true for them without any standing to tell someone else what is true for all.
The view of God presented by the blind men and the elephant leaves us in our blindness. Life’s biggest questions – What is the meaning to life? What is our purpose? How can we be forgiven? What happens when we die? How will this world end? - remain in darkness. No amount of exploration will give us answers to these questions, and so we are left to invent them for ourselves without any assurance that anything we believe is connected to reality.
But…What if the elephant could talk?!? “Hey blind man – that isn’t a fan – that is my ear!” What if the elephant could make blind men to see?!? The man holding the “spear” would quickly realize that there is much more to the elephant than his puny thoughts had originally imagined! The parable of the blind men and the elephant breaks down immediately when the true God is inserted for the elephant.
The God of the Bible is a God who speaks and calls us to hear. We may be blind, but the God of the Bible does not leave us groping in our blindness. We can know the truth, not “my truth,” but “the truth” because we have a God who has revealed it to us.
Isaiah addresses our desperate need to have God speak in the first chapter of his book:
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz,…Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me…Hear the word of the Lord…Give ear to the teaching of our God…(Isaiah 1:1-2, 10)
Isaiah compiled prophecies from over 40 years of prophetic ministry into a single vision from God in his book. This vision, which Isaiah saw, gives us new sight to see God for who he truly is and what he is truly like. Isaiah gave his life to this vision despite the fact that most rejected him culminating in his martyrdom by being sawn in two. Isaiah had seen the Lord of glory and no amount of blind men’s groping about would cause him to doubt it (Isaiah 6).
Isaiah’s vision is possible because the LORD has spoken! The sight we receive comes through hearing the word of God. These prophecies of Isaiah are some of the most theologically rich words of God in all of the Old Testament concerning the coming of Jesus and the LORD’s salvation through him. Without God speaking we would remain blind but his word brings new sight.
First, Isaiah gives us a new self-awareness. We come to see ourselves as accountable to our Creator with the realization that we have rebelled against him. Isaiah will warn Israel and Judah of the coming just judgment of God because of their rebellion against the LORD. Perhaps this word is not surprising. By the time we get to Isaiah in our Bibles we have seen the rebellion of God’s people as they repeatedly broke God’s covenant with them. Yet, we are no less rebellious in creating gods in our likeness to devote our lives to. We too exchange the glory of God for the fleeting pleasures and hopes of this world.
The surprising word from Isaiah is that despite certain judgment and even through judgment God will bring salvation to his people! The LORD speaks salvation! Isaiah’s name means “the LORD saves,” and this will be the theme of his entire book. If God had desired to leave people in their sin and under his just judgment there was no need for him to speak. The LORD has spoken in order to bring Salvation – to point Israel and Judah and us past what our blind eyes can comprehend to a beautiful Savior! Isaiah paints a glorious vision of the coming Messiah who will take our judgment upon himself in order to bring salvation to us. Our judgment fell upon the Suffering Servant who “was wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities.” We have received salvation through judgment! The good news is that the judgment did not fall on us who deserve it but on the Savior who was judged in our place. Christ Jesus has brought us peace and “with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53).”
The LORD has spoken salvation to Israel, to Judah, and to us! The very Word of God “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).” Our Savior brings new sight to the blind and speaks salvation to sinners. We need not grope around like blind men wondering what God is like. He has revealed himself to us in his word and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is a God full of grace and truth that far surpasses any god we could ever imagine in our blindness. We can trust the word of the LORD and his promises to us in the gospel and in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to save sinners! Receive sight and fix your eyes of faith on him!