A man, just home from a long business trip, awoke to the late-night ringing of the telephone. He got up to answer it, then came back to bed grumbling and flopped back down beside his wife.

“Who was it?” she asked.

“Oh, just some kook wanting to know if the coast is clear.”

After a pause, the wife asked: “What did you tell him?”

I said, “How should I know, the coast is 500 miles from here.”

Have you ever been around people who seem to be lacking in understanding? We decide that they’re a few bricks shy of a load, that their elevators don’t go all the way to top, or, that their cornbread isn’t done in the middle.

The Bible talks about people who lack understanding: “Their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and should understand with their heart” (Matthew 13:15).

I thought about that the other day when I ran across an old story that originated, as I understand it, in India long ago. There have been several different renditions of the story. One goes like this:

One day, a caravan of travelers brought an elephant into a village. Six blind men who lived there had no idea what an elephant was. Together they went to learn about this creature. Each of them was able to touch only a part of the elephant and then report their findings.

The first man encountered the elephant’s trunk and proclaimed the elephant was like a huge snake.

The second man inspecting only the elephant’s leg concluded that the elephant was not like a snake, but instead like the trunk of a tree.

The third man was puzzled hearing what the first two men had to say because he found a smooth long and pointed tusk. He explained that the elephant more closely resembled a heavy spear.

The fourth discovered a swinging tail, causing him to rebuke his friends saying the elephant was like a small rope.

As the next man approached he felt a gentle breeze of air. He reached out and touched the elephant’s huge ear. That man proclaimed the elephant to be more like a huge, slow-moving fan.

The last of the men found the side of the elephant’s massive body and announced that an elephant was just a big dirty wall.

Each man was convinced in his own mind that he had the best and most accurate understanding of elephants. Isn’t it strange how, at times, we can believe we’re absolutely right but be entirely wrong?

That’s why we need to be careful when describing God, not to focus on just one of his many attributes, because He is infinite, self-existing and without origin. He never changes. He is self-sufficient. He is all-powerful. He is all-knowing. He is everywhere. He is full of perfect wisdom. He is faithful. He is loving and kind. He is sovereign and just, holding people accountable for wrongdoing. Yet, He is merciful and compassionate. He is gracious and forgiving. He is holy. He is awesome. He is glorious. And He is so much more than that. Mere words can’t describe all that God is.

Our God is great, and I expect even the man who answered the late-night telephone call understands that.

Roger Alford is pastor of South Fork Baptist Church. Reach him at P.O. Box 673, Owenton, Ky. 40359 or 502-514-6857.

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