The Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BC) in his work, Republic, gives an allegory commonly known as “Plato’s Cave” or “Allegory of the Cave”. This discourse presents an unusual image:
A number of prisoners are living in an underground cave, dwelling since childhood, shackled by the legs and neck, such that they cannot move nor turn their heads to look around. They can only face the back of the cave. Behind them is a fire and between the fire and them is a raised walkway on which other people can walk. Between the prisoner and the fire, other people and objects passed by casting only shadows for the people to see in front of them. They presumed the image to be real, rather than just shadowy representations of what it actually is. The images on the wall would be so real that the prisoners would take great pride among each other to the one who could recall the most detail about the shapes. Similarly in the outer world, there is light and everything is visible.
If one prisoner is released from the cave world, his eyes would dazzle in the light. But slowly and gradually he can begin to identify and realize the outer world to be the real world and the cave to be the unreal one. Now he has a better understanding of what was causing the shadows and the noises. The light of the sun would be much brighter than the fire that he would be able to see beyond only shadows, see dimensions and reflection in the water, flowers, trees.
After learning the reality, he thinks it is better to be a slave in the outer world than to be the king inside of the cave. So he attempts to persuade the people. But the other prisoners pity him thinking that rather than gaining knowledge he has lost his sense. His new-found freedom and attempt to free the others are met with so much disdain and mistrust that they plot to kill him.
When I read this allegory, I thought about the life of Jesus. He was the one who sought to free people from their captivity of darkness. Ephesians 5:8 tells, “For you were once darkness…”. We, humans, are like the prisoners chained in a deep cave. We are imprisoned in untruth. What we need is someone to free us from our chains, to lead us out of the dark and into the day.
It is very easy for us to get consumed by the things around us. We can be so centred on the shadows inside the cave, attracted by the promise of prosperity and material goods, that we forget that there is more to this life. Until we come into the light that is Christ, we are still living in a world of shadows and darkness where we think we are safe.
The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
God wills for no one to perish by remaining in the cave (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Jesus in John 8:12 said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Everyone can come out of the cave and experience a new life, “an abundant life” (John 10:10). Let us take the light we have received and return to the cave so that others too can experience the beauty of the “Truth” outside the cave, for Jesus has said: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15).
Father God, grant us the humility to recognize our own blindness and the courage to venture out of this cave of ignorance into the light of your truth.