Lateral Thinking

John & John McKeel in Jerusalem

We don’t always have to move in a straight line from point A to point B in our thinking. Two of our grandchildren are English and are taught to think laterally in school. Here is a story that illustrates that point.

Once there was a poor and destitute man. He was overwhelmed with debt, but he had a beautiful daughter. A powerful, wealthy man approached him with an offer. “I need a wife, and you have a beautiful daughter. I will put two rocks in this bag. One is white, and one is black. We’ll let your daughter draw one out of the bag. If it is black, she must marry me, but I will pay off all your debts. If she draws out the white stone, she won’t have to marry me, but I will still pay your debts.”

The poor man didn’t have much choice. However, the rich man cheated. He put two black stones in the bag! The man was doomed to lose his beautiful daughter. However, when it came time to draw out a rock, the wise young woman who knew what the man had done drew out a stone but dropped it into the black gravel.

“Oh! How clumsy of me,” she said. “Fortunately, we still have the other stone in the bag. The first stone must have been the opposite color of that one,” and she drew out the remaining black stone.

Many so-called Biblical Contradictions can easily be solved. They are only contradictions if we jump to conclusions. For example, “How many blind men did Jesus heal on his way to Jerusalem?”

Matthew says, “And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’” (Matthew 20:29 – 30)

On the other hand, Mark says, “And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside” (Mark 10:46). Luke wrote: “As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Luke 18:35 – 38).

Read the text carefully before you conclude there is a contradiction. Luke says, “As he drew near to Jericho,” while Mark says, “as he was leaving Jericho.” Matthew simply summarizes the healings in Jericho and gives the total of “two blind men.”

It seems some people get all their exercise by jumping to conclusions.

The Elephant and Blind Men

The blind men and the elephant (wall relief in Northeast Thailand).

Once a king invited six blind men to examine an elephant. The first felt his trunk and said, “An elephant is like a tree branch.” The second felt his leg and concluded, “An elephant is like a palm tree,” while the third felt the elephant’s belly and said, “Elephants must be like walls.” The fourth felt its tail and said, “You’re all wrong. Elephants are like ropes,” while the fifth concluded elephants were like pipes because he had felt its tusk. The last blind man, feeling only the elephant’s ear said they were all wrong. “Elephants are like giant fans!” The king was greatly amused by it all.

Many people use this story to describe religion and spirituality. God is like the elephant and all religions, like the blind men, have some truth, so it really doesn’t matter what you believe. Everyone is correct.

Do all paths lead to God? Most people have smoke detectors in their homes and believe they will wake us up in case of a fire, but when was the last time the batteries were tested? That’s a dangerous assumption.

There are at least two major problems with the assumption, all paths lead to God. First, the person making that assumption takes the place of the king. “I’m not blind. I can see the whole elephant!” Worse, he won’t be able to test his assumption until it’s too late.

I loved my grand, old sailboat and when I set sail on a long-distance voyage, I choose a compass course and blindly believe I will arrive at a distant port if I stay on that heading. However, I won’t really know if my choice is correct until I arrive. The port will be there or it won’t. That can make for some sleepless nights! I would feel much better if there was a way of testing my assumption along the way. I could rest easy if I passed an island or met a ship coming back from the port I was aiming for. Is there anything in the world of religion like that?

Unfortunately, religious teachers are like blind men describing an elephant. They share their conclusions and we are expected to blindly believe them.

Christianity is completely different. The other teachers taught and died. Jesus died and taught and therein lies the difference. Jesus is the king who saw the whole elephant.