Let me preface this with a free translation of Plato’s Cave allegory.
Imagine there is a large cave. The descent into this cave is down a long steep passage. The descent is such that no outside light or sound can reach the interior of the cave. Now imagine there are people imprisoned within the cave. Each of these has been there since childhood, having their hands and feet shackled so that they are forced to look on the back wall of the cave and cannot turn to see behind them. This cave and specifically that wall are all they know. All of their knowledge of the world around them is based on their perception of their surroundings.
Behind these chained people, someone has built a fire that casts light upon the rear wall. In front of this fire is a small wall. Now, all along this wall at all times of the day, someone performs a puppet show for those who are chained. The men duck behind the wall and perform the puppet show so that the shadows of the puppets are cast upon the wall that the prisoners are facing. At times, a statue moves along that wall, at others a bird or even a book.
Don’t you suppose that those who are chained, knowing only what they perceive, consider the shadows dancing upon the wall to be real? And perhaps through long association they have become familiar with certain shadows, naming some and thinking they understand their patterns of behavior. All they know is what is displayed obviously before them. When they hear a voice, they recognize it as being from one of the puppets.
Now every day, they are fed three times. And all prisoners who are chained know that to receive their food, they must lift their right hand at the appointed time. In many of the areas of their common existence, they follow the same pattern. And all follow the same general pattern, to one degree or another.
Consider the effect should one of them one day break free. They turn and see the fire for the first time. They would have no idea what it was, only know that it was the source of the light that shined on the wall. They wander past the fire and up the entrance to the surface. The light from the sun would be blinding to them at first. Perhaps others had gotten free before them but the new reality was so different from their established patterns of behavior that they immediately ran back inside the cave to the security of what they had always known.
But one ventures out into the dazzling light unafraid of the implications. Soon their eyes adjust and they see men like themselves walking freely. Perhaps they bend down and find an orange or another type of food lying on the ground. Amazed by everything they see, they venture back into the cave to explain to the prisoners left behind that what they see is not real. Would those who are still bound believe them while their chains held them fast?
Perhaps the one who escaped returns to the surface and looks for more food where they found the last. But none can be found for days on end. They wander back into the cave and explain to the others that they are hungry but can find no food. Would the prisoners not explain how simple it is to receive food? Wouldn’t they say, “Simply sit back down with us, raise your right hand and you will get food!” And when the free man refused to do things that way any longer, don’t you think that those who are still bound would consider him a fool and fully deserving of his fate? But having seen the sun outside and knowing the truth of the bound one’s position, could the man ever return to his former position no matter how hungry he became?
We sit, day after day within that cave. We know from our perception what things are that are shown to us upon the wall. We hear the others who are chained beside us talk and debate as to what certain things are. And though we may disagree with some definitions we still hold fast to some common rules. Some things never change. Some laws are immutable. You cannot change the substance of the shadows, you must raise your hand just so in order to get your provision, you cannot turn around.
We name and categorize what we see before us. Some who are chained have keen imaginations and so their descriptions are far deeper than some others. But it never changes the fact that you are bound inside of a cave. The shadows are just that, shadows.
I had a vision once.
I saw a large river where flotsam and jetsam of all different shapes and sizes floated down the current. Floating among them were Christians from every nationality. All of them were neck deep in the murky water and seemingly happy even though they were surrounded by trash and offscouring. Occasionally, one would hit a high spot in that riverbed and push hard with their feet, jetting up to where the water was around their waist. When this happened, others all around them would point and grow very excited at where they were. Then they would rush to where the person was and attempt to get as high out of the water themselves. This happened over and over again. Then I looked up from the river and saw Jesus standing on the bank, motioning for me to come up where he was. And I saw that those people were Christians and the river was a world system they were floating in. Once in awhile, a teacher comes along who is not as deep as the others or who has a “revelation”. Christians want this and will go to them and try to put what they are saying into practice. But like jumping in water, the level you can jump to is only temporary and you will soon find yourself in the same position again and again. Jesus is out of that river completely. And if we are to have what he desires for us, if we are to live in the environment we are meant to live in, we have to be where he is. To go up where the devil can’t go.
No matter what our insights or efforts, if we remain within the cave or within that river, none of it matters. Because truth resides in the light of day outside the cave and it abides on the shoreline with the savior. Certain facts about this life we live are inescapable. And they are holistic in the sense that everyone, regardless of stature or education believes in them. When we hear the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes, turning water into wine or walking upon the water, they carry with them the feeling of being fantastic. We can imagine them taking place in some other time and some other place but never beside us in that cave. The scope of our perception is limited to our immediate surroundings.
Can’t you imagine the scene when someone comes in from outside that cave and explains to them what they are seeing on the wall before them? Most would not believe it. They have been in chains for their entire lives, facing that wall. And when they attempt to turn enough to verify what the escapee says, they are bound from doing so by the clasps around their neck. Do you think they would be appreciative of what was being told to them? Or would they instead fall into a defensive position, writing off the escapee as a crackpot and liar. They would quickly become angry at the descriptions and rely on what they saw with their own eyes as proof for their convictions and descriptions.
And no matter how hard they tried to believe the stories, the reality of them would never be manifest because they remained bound. They could believe all they wanted that they could close their eyes and when they opened them, they would see the sun that the escapee described. Maybe they would subscribe to his theories in their minds and talk about the possibility of being free. Those who did so would no doubt become alienated from the larger group. But it would still not change their position. Because the only way to see the sunlight is to become free, not just subscribe to it mentally.
Here lies the crux.
There is a qualitative difference between fact and truth. Fact is what you see displayed on the wall before you, spoon-fed to you since you were a child. Facts are generally agreed upon even when they are described in different ways. But truth must be experienced in order to qualify it as being truth. Mental assent says, “Yes such and such is true, I believe it.” Faith based on truth says, ” I know this to be true because I have experienced it as such.”
We quote the verse all the time that says “The truth shall set you free.” But that is not what the verse says. It says; “If you continue in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:31-32. So it is not the truth that sets you free, it is:
1. Knowing the truth.
2. Continuing in that truth.
The Pharisees had a knowledge of the truth. They could quote verses all day, in fact. Their great error is that while they knew the word, they had no experience of that word. It is not in knowing that there is an outside world beyond our cave that matters, it is being outside the cave ourselves. There are many promises in the Bible, none of which means any more than the paper it was printed on if we have no practical experience of it. Spiritual power takes place not when we read a passage of scripture but rather when the Word of God goes from being logos to rhema, that is, from the written word to the God-spoken word. The truth must make the transition from being objective (expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations) to being wholly subjective (characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind). We must possess the truth in experience before it has any power whatsoever.
All of us are stuck in that cave at one time or another. And can’t you see how true this is? How the actions and reactions of those around us and the viability of their advice to us is determined chiefly on whether or not they themselves are stuck in that cave as well?
God will not be stuck in a box. And just because something you hear is strange or does not jive with your metal capacity, it does not make it any less true. We are obliged as Christians to leave that cave, to climb on shore with Christ and see the world around us from a fresh perspective. And that is when light can truly break for us once and for all.