Feel strongly and think deeply

I wish people would start applying the old story of the elephant and the blind men to more than just religion. This little story really does a poor job explaining religions and a pretty good job explaining a lot of other things.

For the uninitiated: Three blind men stand next to an elephant. (For our purposes, we will ignore the wisdom of blind men doing this.) One touches the leg and says “the elephant is like a tree.” One touches the tusk and says, “the elephant is like a spear.” And the last touches the tail and says, “the elephant is like a rope.” Some versions end with all three getting into a scuffle.

The point of the story is that all of them differed, but they weren’t actually that wrong. In fact, they were all partially right, and had they all collaborated instead of arguing, they probably could have come up with a pretty good idea of what an elephant looks like.

I think this is a super helpful illustration for sorting out the value of emotions and logic. Say you have a rather stoic fellow; he might say that if we want to make any sense of the world, we should be governed by reason. He may say that emotion just muddles clear rational thought. What is good is what is logical. He sees a man who is overly emotional as weak; someone who needs to grow up and face the hard facts of life.

On the other hand, you have something of a more impassioned fellow. This is the kind of guy for whom we mix metaphors. He shoots from the hip, goes with his gut, and wears his heart on his sleeve.  When he sees pain, it hurts him; when someone laughs, he is genuinely happy. Sometimes he just does this that feel right, regardless of whether he thinks that it is wise. The rational guy seems boring to him.

These guys might not be friends, but what I’m suggesting that they might be two blind men feeling two different parts of an elephant. Do these two positions have to be in conflict? Humans are made in the image of God, therefore, the most fulfilled, full-orbed human reflects who God is. And God is, surprisingly for almost everybody, both incredibly logical and incredibly emotional.

God holds all wisdom (Daniel 2:20, Romans 11:33), and commands us to think deeply (2 Timothy 2:7). At the same time, God becomes angry (Nahum 1:2), heartbroken (Hosea 11:8), and joyful to the point of singing (Zephaniah 3:17). Which is why it makes sense that God tells us to do the same. Don’t be infants in your thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20), while still weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15).

So it should come as no surprise, when Jesus, God living as a perfect human, characterized the epitome of both logic and emotion. When Jesus was twelve, he was amazing people with the questions he asked the teachers in the temple (Luke 2:46-47). The Pharisees, the ones who knew the law best, were routinely stunned by how he refuted their arguments (Luke 20:40).

But, if you think that would make Jesus into some mix between a logician and an owl, you would be wrong. Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb (John 11:35), had pity on crowds (Matthew 9:36), and endured the cross because of his overwhelming joy (Hebrews 12:2).

So, what does that mean for us? It means that we do not shun emotion, and we do not shun thinking. We feel strongly, we think deeply, and—though both—we become more like Jesus.