Monthly Archives: October 2009

Perspective Matters

Perspective Matters


        Perspective matters.  Countless cataclysmic conflicts have been fueled by fervent adherents of some severely limited point of view clashing with others whose viewpoint is also incomplete.  By 300 A.D. Christians were battling and persecuting one another over whether Jesus’ humanity or his divinity was supreme.  The Nicene Creed formulated by the Council of Nicea in 325A.D. affirmed that Jesus is fully both God and man, although failing to state how the two were combined in one entity left ample room for Christological controversies to rage on.  In the centuries since, followers of Christ have found other aspects of Jesus ministry to insist upon as the crucial  (and only correct) key to understanding what Christianity is all about – often fighting fiercely to defend their own or to eradicate another’s viewpoint.  Turning limited perspectives into insistent doctrine seems always to be tempting and dangerous.

        An important principle for my approach to Christian faith – and also to political, social, and other issues – has been to strive for the most comprehensive perspective possible.  Quite often I fall far short of my aspirations to venture outside of my comfortable, partial, prejudicial point of view to gain a better, fuller understanding of an issue that is larger than any single glance can comprehend.  Sometimes an adequate understanding requires strenuous effort to encounter the issue in a different context, from another viewpoint, through an accumulation of personal experiences.  Doing less can cause misunderstandings and conflicts to persist.  Settling for an impoverished partial experience can mean missing multiple blessings that flow from a more expansive and growing apprehension.

        Paul expressed hope for followers of Jesus to attain more than a restricted understanding of God’s grace through faith in Christ.  He prayed that they would experience the love of Jesus to the full extent of all its dimensions.  His words focus on the benefits of a fuller perspective of Jesus’ love rather than on the dangers of contentment with a limited perspective:

      I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love–how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is. {19} Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God. {20} With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:18-20 NCV)

    Paul indicates that the subject of our quest – the love of Jesus – will always exceed our perspective, but that God’s blessings are enhanced as our personal experience of it grows.

            I have had a long appreciation for a poem that communicates the crucial importance of gaining an adequate perspective.  The poem is based on stories that appear in literature from India, Africa, and China.  The author specifically applies the ancient stories to religious conflicts that arise from committed believers basing their doctrinaire positions on limited perspectives.  The poem, The Blind Men and the Elephant, is a parable that can benefit Christians attempting to live more faithfully as brothers and sisters following Jesus together.  It can also be a poignant cautionary tale for how we conduct ourselves in political, social, family, and any other fields of discourse:

    The Blind Men and the Elephant

    It was six men of Indostan

    To learning much inclined,

    Who went to see the Elephant

    (Though all of them were blind),

    That each by observation

    Might satisfy his mind

    The First approached the Elephant,

    And happening to fall

    Against his broad and sturdy side,

    At once began to bawl:

    "God bless me! but the Elephant

    Is very like a wall!"

    The Second, feeling of the tusk,

    Cried, "Ho! what have we here

    So very round and smooth and sharp?

    To me ’tis mighty clear

    This wonder of an Elephant

    Is very like a spear!"

    The Third approached the animal,

    And happening to take

    The squirming trunk within his hands,

    Thus boldly up and spake:

    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

    Is very like a snake!"

    The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

    And felt about the knee.

    "What most this wondrous beast is like

    Is mighty plain," quoth he;

    "’Tis clear enough the Elephant

    Is very like a tree!"

    The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

    Said: "E’en the blindest man

    Can tell what this resembles most;

    Deny the fact who can

    This marvel of an Elephant

    Is very like a fan!"

    The Sixth no sooner had begun

    About the beast to grope,

    Than, seizing on the swinging tail

    That fell within his scope,

    "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

    Is very like a rope!"

    And so these men of Indostan

    Disputed loud and long,

    Each in his own opinion

    Exceeding stiff and strong,

    Though each was partly in the right,

    And all were in the wrong!

    Moral:

    So oft in theologic wars,

    The disputants, I ween,

    Rail on in utter ignorance

    Of what each other mean,

    And prate about an Elephant

    Not one of them has seen!

    (John Godfrey Saxe, 1816-1887)

            How is your perspective on various issues?  Are your most vehemently defended positions based on monolithic or on expanded perspectives?  Do you strive yourself to gain broadened perspectives?  Do you gently and generously try to assist others who may be lashing out from their severely limited perspective.  We can learn in all areas from what Paul says about understanding the love of Christ.  To paraphrase Paul, “Perspective matters.”

            -J. Edward Culpepper

    Want to receive Blind Faith each week by e-mail? Send a message with the subject “Subscribe Blind Faith” to:

    Edward.culpepper@att.net