To Shoot An Elephant

“Let me not forget the heinousness of sin lies not so much in the nature of the sin committed, as in the greatness of the Person sinned against.” —Puritan prayer

George Orwell wrote an incredible story of a man who was faced with a major moral dilemma—to kill an elephant or not. “To Shoot an Elephant” was first published in the literary magazine New Writing in the autumn of 1936.

The story doesn’t sound quite that drastic or horrible a situation, but this foreign policeman struggles with the task placed upon him. He knows he shouldn’t do it. He can’t do it. But the elephant is destroying the market of this foreign country that hates the policeman, yet he is tasked to be in. These people are ones who do everything they can to humiliate him.

And now he has been given a task by his superiors, who he does not agree with. Orders to shoot the elephant. Everyone expects him to do it. One of the most telling parts comes when he says:

“And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”

So there he stood, rifle in hand, sights set on the elephant he knew he should not shoot.

It made me think, how often do we face situations where, quite honestly, we know what’s right but we’d rather not be laughed at? There are so many reasons to go with the crowd and with their expectations—everyone would understand. But we struggle inside. We battle and wrestle and struggle. Yet we sit there with our fingers on the trigger of sin.

Think of those times when you’re faced with those kinds of situations daily. An opportunity to lie about whom you really are just to fit in. Justifying those words you just spoke harshly to a sibling. Or maybe it’s the clothes you’re holding in your hands, contemplating how good you’re going to look in them, ignoring the fact that it will make your brothers in Christ stumble.

The words of Proverbs 10:9 echo in my ears, as I stand with the proverbial gun in my hand: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” In other words, we’re faced with elephants to kill every day. Everyone around us expects us to kill it, but we know it’s wrong. Our conscience screams out not to do it. It’s in those moments we struggle like the man in Orwell’s story. What should we do, surrounded by a world out to laugh and humiliate us? No one wants to be thought of as the loser who couldn’t pull the trigger.

God calls us to set down the “gun,” the sin, and offers us a way of escape, even in situations full of excuses to sin. First Corinthians 10:12–13 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

So will you put down the gun or will you shoot the elephant?

About Author

Tim Sweetman

Tim has been writing since 2005, mainly on his blog, TimSweetman.com, as well as in a number of magazines across the country.

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