Eating an Elephant: Even God?

Wondering what God has to do with eating an elephant?1 Wondering if this piece is going to discuss the All Mighty’s eating habits? Rest assured, that is not the case. On the other hand, I am going to write of things related to God.

If you are an atheist, you might want to click on something else. This piece may make absolutely no sense to you, but you might be amused by some of the things said here. They might even give you ammo to use the next time you argue with one of us Bible Thumpers.  Also, some of this has nothing to do with a god, real or imagined. Rather it has to do with changing society, one small bite at a time.2

Creighton Abrams intended his comment about dining on an elephant to make a couple of points. One is obvious. It is impossible to eat anything the size of an elephant in one gulp. Beyond that, it has a second, less obvious meaning. Butchering, preparing and eating an elephant would take time, which indicates one should not dilly-dally around in processing the beast. One should get started, as early as possible.

About this time, if you are still tuned in, you are wondering, “Where is this going?”  I know I would be.  So, here is where this is going. Something has been eating the elephant of civilization and society for a long time, and modern technology is speeding up the process.  For instance, take the title of this piece. Eating an elephant is clear, but “Even God,” what does that mean?

Encyclopedia Britannica states the tragic poet Agathon was born in ancient Greece around  445 B.C. At some point in his life, Agathon is credited with saying, “Even God cannot change the past.” Certainly, in those days of poetry, philosophy, and great thinkers, the idea that Agathon might make such a comment is not unbelievable. What is a bit difficult to believe, if one thinks about it, is that people today still give the line credibility.

Now, if you are an atheist, skeptic, or just someone looking for an argument, that last sentence may have gotten your attention. You may be saying to yourself, “Yep, he is one of those Kool-Aid drinking religious nuts.” Possibly, but hear me out.

First, why would I say people today give Agathon’s comment credibility? I say that because it is a thought being shared in social media, which is where it came to my attention. It is being shared, apparently, as a motivational quote, and one can see why. If someone is hurting over past mistakes, or obsessing over them, the idea that even an all-powerful God could not change things might help them move on. 

For the record, I could find nothing that would help understand what a Greek tragic poet meant by the phrase being discussed. His work has largely been lost, and little is known about him. Still, it would make sense to believe he meant it as it was written, and as it might now be used. Don’t cry over spilled milk, as even God cannot change the past.

When I saw the meme my comment to the post was, “Really! How would we know?” The person posting the meme’s reply was, essentially, don’t shoot the messenger! He pointed out he didn’t write these things. He just shared them.  

To be fair, the person sharing the advice shares many such bits of so-called wisdom. In each case, it is reasonable to assume he is sharing them with good intentions. However, his intentions do not matter in this case.

This alleged quotation from an ancient writer, intentionally or unintentionally, attempts to put God in a box. The author may have been well-intentioned, but essentially, he was saying God is not all-powerful, at least temporally. That is a problem, for believers.

The God of the Bible is an all-powerful, all-knowing God. The Bible teaches He knew us before we were born, and one source lists 100 passages making that point. This and other factors lead many to believe God exists outside of time. Thus, He exists or can exist, at all points in time.

Of course, the debate on that issue is far from settled, as a quick internet search will reveal. Yet, if, as many believe, God does exist outside of time, He might be able to change the past. This would be especially true, if, as some believe, the universe is some form of simulation. In that case, there is likely a reset button or command available. Whatever the reality, what does all this have to do with the title of this essay? 

The nature of God is one of the all-time elephants humans attempt to devour and digest. Is God real, mythical, or a delusion is a question many have asked for thousands of years.  Christians, Jews, and others have pushed the idea that one swallows the idea more or less whole. Some Skeptics, atheists, and those who believe in other higher powers often take a similar approach to debunking what they see as a fairy tale. 

Others attempting to debunk, as they see it, the myth of an all-powerful God recognize the need to eat the elephant one bite at a time. Agathon’s quotation may be one of those bites, and it has been around since before the birth of Jesus. Regardless of the motivation behind the original utterance or publishing of the comment, the comment does imply God has limitations.

Preaching or philosophizing that God is unable to control time, is one small swipe at the concept of God as many see Him. My comments and this piece to some degree are my attempt to help others realize the seeds of doubt can be sown in a seemingly harmless aphorism. Which takes this back to my original response to this quotation.

There was a time when most theologians likely believed in the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the Bible. Oh, there were skeptics, detractors, and people attempting to teach other traditions, belief systems, or ways of life, but Christianity believed in the God of the Bible.

Over the centuries, naysayers and others have attempted to chip away at these beliefs.  Today, there are theologians and biblical scholars who do not believe in the God of the Bible. They may say they do, but their beliefs put limitations on God. One such limitation, is the idea that God, like man, is stuck in a time continuum. If that is the case, even He could not change the past. They are eating the elephant of disbelief one bite at a time and sharing it with those around them.

Which takes me back to my original comment about this bit of wisdom. How would we know?


1See The Media Circus for the inspiration for the title.

2For those who worry about the smallest possible grammar issue, the term society is used in a global sense to indicate the larger human society of which all humanity is a part, without regard to geographical, social, racial, or other differences.

© – – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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