How to deal with an elephant in the room


God devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from Him.”  2 Samuel 14:14  (NIV)

Why is it so hard to deal with an elephant in the room?  The elephant in the room is an idiomatic expression representing a person or truth that is an obvious problem, but never gets addressed.  Thus the people in the room with the elephant ignore it because of a reticence to pay the price of confronting and trying to solve the problem.

Elephants are hard to confront because usually their sheer size has an intimidating and controlling effect on people.  Their opinion carries a lot of weight. Once they have settled on something they are almost impossible to budge. Or if you get them going on something they may run you over while whatever truths or opinions you have to offer are cast aside.   Sad to say they have a thick skin that is hard to penetrate with the truth.  Even though they have big ears they often are not open to hearing what others have to say. 

And so we try to pretend the elephant is not there.  But in the end that does not do the elephant any good and those in the room with the elephant have to go on suffering. 

The elephant in the room syndrome has troubled me for some time.  Number one, if I were the big guy in the room I would want to know it and hopefully be helped to deal with it.  Number two, those affected by the elephant are hindered from bringing their best contribution to the table.  The dysfunctional effects of the elephant reverberate throughout the room and beyond, multiplying hidden suspicions, whispered conversations and frustration.  

Thankfully God has a higher way.  Just this morning I stumbled onto a scriptural strategy for addressing the elephant in the room.  Here it is.

The best way to approach an elephant is to appeal to their sense of justice. 

Those in authority are prime candidates for elephancy, especially kings.  And on two occasions King David, was an elephant in the room if there ever was one.  As a mighty warrior, psalmist and king his very presence in a room struck fear and reverence in every heart.  But sadly, two major faux pas on David’s part made him a presence to be reckoned with, but not out of respect for his position.

When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah killed to cover it up, he became an elephant in the room – both with God and everyone who knew it.  Imagine having to occupy the same meeting space with someone of his stature while knowing he needed to be confronted.  But God had a strategy for not only exposing the elephant, but also bringing him to repentance and restoration – which by the way, is the goal of any confrontation.

God sent the prophet Nathan to David with a story to appeal to the king’s sense of justice.  Nathan told David about a rich man who robbed a poor man of his only ewe lamb to feed a guest.  David was incensed vowing that the rich man who had multitudes of sheep should pay back the poor man four times over.  Nathan then said “You are the man.” And the rest is history. (2 Samuel 12:7ff)  David repented and the elephant in the room was deflated.

A second illustration of this same approach to dealing with the elephant in the room appears again in the life of David in the next two chapters.  Here, David’s passivity as a father has fomented his son Absalom’s murder of his brother Amnon and subsequent three year exile. (2 Samuel 13)  David is eventually comforted in Amnon’s death and now longs for reconciliation with Absalom. 

As time passes, David does nothing about it, takes no kingly or fatherly initiative, and lapses once again into passivity.  As a result he once again becomes an elephant in the room, because everyone close to him knows his problem but all are afraid to address it.  Finally, Joab, his military commander, comes up with a strategy – appeal to his sense of justice.  Joab arranges for a woman to come to King David with a heart felt appeal for mercy in order to save her son who murdered his brother.  It is of course all a hoax but David does not know this and he rules in favor of exonerating the woman’s condemned son.  The woman then, with Joab at her side, turns the tables on David and says “When the king says this, does he not convict himself?” (2 Samuel 14:13)  David acquiesces, the elephant in the room is deflated and he sends Joab to retrieve Absalom.

Appealing by means of a parable, to an elephant’s sense of right & wrong, not only exposes an obvious problem but also engages the elephant in solving it.

Can you see this working in dealing with your elephant in the room situation?

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