As I was teaching a group of students in church the other day, this scene from the Little Mermaid popped into my mind…from Out. Of. Nowhere… It was such a clear illustration of why we need God and the Bible I thought I would share.
Ariel is a mermaid who is fascinated with all things human. In this scene, she’s found a collection of human items and wants to know what they are used for, so she takes them to her only source, a loveable but dim-witted bird named Scuttle who is not nearly the expert on all things human which he claims to be. When shown a fork, he says it’s a dingle-hopper, used for straightening hair. He claims a pipe is a musical instrument called a snarf-blatt , etc. Here’s the scene:
Ariel had good questions, and a true desire to learn, but her source was faulty. He meant well, to be sure, and he may have even gotten many things right, but he also got things wrong. He got them wrong because he didn’t create them. At the end of the day, he was just guessing. They were better guesses than Ariel’s because while she lived below the surface and stayed away from man, Scuttle lived above the surface and was able to get closer to man and make better observations. They were only observations though, from a distance. He never used a fork himself, or a brush or comb, but if he saw someone using a comb and then saw a fork, you can understand how he might have mistaken the one for the other. You can just as easily understand how he might have seen and heard someone blowing something which made music, and then, seeing someone smoke a pipe, made the assumption that it also must be an instrument. It’s an understandable mistake if you only observe, if you have never smoked, never smelled tobacco, never felt it in your blood.
He was doing the best he could, and he really was trying to help. There were two problems, however: 1. He was a secondary source. 2. His pride.
Let me explain those a little. He wasn’t a great source because he wasn’t an original source. He neither created nor used the things in question. At best he had seen them used and was making deductions based on what he had seen. And, because he wanted to look important to Ariel (aka because of his pride), he wasn’t honest about the limitations of his knowledge. He spoke with authority, rather than admitting when he was unsure and/or making educated guesses. He made up ridiculous names for things and presented the fiction as if it was fact. He should have admitted that he didn’t know what it was called, but it looked like something used for hair, or music, etc. But he didn’t. He spoke with certainty and authority, and he was wrong.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the kind of wrong that was going to do her real harm. We know that these are honest mistakes, and it’s pretty comical in the movie. The thing is, this happens all the time in real life. Sometimes it’s just as benign and comical, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s about something that really matters. The big concern with the lies we are told (even if they are in the form of an honest mistake) is less to do with how far they deviate from reality, and far more to do with how critical that reality is. So, getting misinformation on what a fork is made for isn’t going to seriously damage the way we live. Getting misinformation on what we are made for, however, that does have some serious ramifications for our lives. You could get it completely wrong about the fork’s purpose and ultimately it’s not going to damage your life, but when it comes to your life’s purpose, even being a little bit wrong can do a whole lot of damage.
So here are a couple lessons we can learn from this scene in Little Mermaid.
1) You need a good source. There are plenty of Scuttles in the world who mean well, but get it wrong (I think it would be safe to say we are ALL a Scuttle at one point or another). There are also plenty of others in the world who mean to mislead, lie and deceive—because they want to do harm. You need a source you can trust. And when it comes to things that really matter about life, there’s no source like the Creator of life. If you want to know what a thing is made for, how it works, what will help it to function best, what it does, etc… there is no greater source than its creator.
In our internet age, the temptation is greater than ever to be like Ariel and ask our friends and peers about their opinions. They are just like Scuttle – doing their best to make good guesses about these things. Yet, we think they are experts because they have seen and done things we haven’t, and because they speak with authority. It’s not that you can’t ask them, and can’t value their input, (like Scuttle they may be closer to the truth than you are!) but all said and done, keep checking that data; be sure it’s correct. Get a better source and defer to it as the final authority. The best source is God’s Word.
2) BE a good source. People are looking to you with questions about all kinds of things—things which you seem to know more about than they do. The problem is the temptation to look like we know all the answers, even when we don’t. Even if we mean well, we must be wary of presenting as absolute fact that which we only are guessing at. We need to be able to admit it when we are making educated guesses, rather than promising answers. It takes a lot of humility.
3) Get closer to THE Source. Ariel went to Scuttle for information because he could get closer to humans and could therefore understand them better than she could. Later, when she got her legs, she became the greater expert on all things human, because she was closer to mankind. If you want to understand God, you can only get so close by asking other people about him. If you really want to understand Him better, you’ve got to get closer to Him yourself. You can’t rely on other people if you want to know and understand for yourself—your knowledge will always be second hand, when what you really need is first hand knowledge.
4) One final, but slightly unrelated point: Let this also be a testament to the power of what we watch. I probably have not seen the Little Mermaid since it came out in theaters. 1989—that’s almost a quarter of a century ago! I have never thought in any depth about this scene, but in an instant it came rushing into my mind with startling clarity—not just the scene, but an application for it I had never thought of before. That being said, I hope that as you watch this scene and read this post it will bring some truths home to roost in your heart with a similarly lasting potency and clarity.
May we all be ever challenged to get closer to the Source of our lives, looking to Him and His Word for the answers we seek, recognizing Him as the only true expert and reliable source. Or, as the writer of Hebrews put it, let us ever be “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (12:2)