24.4.08

Caves of the Underworld

Job 40:1-2

Then the LORD said to Job, ‘Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it.” NASB


“God then confronted Job directly: ‘Now what do you have to say for yourself? Are you going to haul me, the Mighty One, into court and press charges” The
Message Eugene Peterson


“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction. Jealous and proud of it, a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak, a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidical, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
The God Delusion Richard Dawkins

“Alright, you know how this works. Tell me what you see.”

“I… I see a, a horse?”

“Yes, that’s right a horse. Now tell me what you see?”

“It looks like, it’s a … a tree?”

“Well done. What do you see now?”

“I think it’s a… it’s a… dog.”

“Yes, you’ve done very well. Here is a new one for you… it is called an eagle.”

“An eagle.”

“Exactly, watch the eagle.”

Shadows dance before a young woman’s eyes. Shadows reflected from a light source she has never seen, being educated by a voice of someone she has never met, and learning only the sheer silhouettes and outlines of items and objects. She has never experienced a tree, but yet she can identify one and name its type by the shape that it casts against the wall. It’s all she has ever known. The voice speaks, she listens, and she learns but yet she doesn’t know why.

Imagine the life of one subjected to utter darkness, forced to gaze at only shadows, incapable of seeing anything real. She doesn’t know that this is torture and inhumane, how could she? She sits content in her darkness learning the names and characteristics of a form of reality without seeing the substance thereof.

Now imagine that one day, a spelunker finds this dark cave where this young woman is being kept. He disables her captives and comes to her rescue. His headlamp shines into her darkness brighter than any light she has ever seen. The light is too powerful, too great, it is painful for her to even look at. She can’t adjust her eyes to such brilliance.

“You’ve been a prisoner here for too long”

“Prisoner? What are you talking about?”

“You are a slave here in this cave and I have come to rescue you.”

“I am no slave and this cave is the world. I am not a prisoner.”

“It is worse than I feared. Come with me.”

Her rescuer takes her hand. He breaks the chains that bind her and gets her to stand. She still can not look at him, the light is too painful.

“Where are you taking me?”

“We are leaving this cave, this prison.”

“But this isn’t a prison, this is the world.”

As he guides her further up the cave gets brighter and brighter. The light is becoming unbearable. It is attacking her eyes even with them closed.

“Please, stop it hurts, it hurts so much.”

“Just a little bit farther.”

“I can’t…”

Suddenly there is the mouth of the cave. To her rescuer this looks like the exit of darkness and the entrance into a world of light. To her it is brighter and more painful than anything she could ever imagine. She screams in horror as the pain becomes unbearable for her. She stumbles to the ground. Her rescuer is confused, why is there such resistance? Why can’t she see the light?

“Why have you brought me here?”

“I have come to set you free.”

“Free from what? This is my home.”

“But there is so much more, you’ve never seen the sun, or moon, or trees.”

“Yes, I have seen trees. I can tell you the name of each one.”

“But you haven’t really seen one.”

“Yes I have.”

“Then what color are they?”

“Color? What kind of word is that? Just let me go, I am not going any where else. It is too painful.”

“You’re free to do whatever you wish.”

“I wish to be left alone.”

She rushes back into her cave, into her world, to sit in her darkness and memorize more shadows. She will never see the substance that those shadows represent, but it is of course her choice.

This is Plato’s Cave Allegory. He uses it to describe ignorance, enlightenment, and education. I use it here to represent what is happening in the mind of a non-believer, in fact, in the mind of all of us at one point. It is the condition of this world. All mankind is born into a prison of darkness, forced to see only shadows of reality and never see where they come from. This ignorance (for lack of any other term) leads us to believe that there is nothing beyond what we see, hear, and experience in our prison. If someone were actually subjected to the conditions of Plato’s cave we would consider it cruel, torturous, inhumane. That is the truth. Our sin has left us in an inhuman jail of dark, dank shadows. It is a sub-human existence.

Christ came to give light. He broke the chains that bound us, he robbed our captor of his power and authority over us, and then showed us the way to life as it was meant to be; outside the cave, out of darkness, into the light. He wants to show us what it means to be a human.

Yet there are those who refuse to leave the darkness of the cave. They refuse to see the light, they refuse the gift of freedom that is offered to them. They see the rescuer as the one who is cruel for trying to tell them everything that they thought was real was just an illusion. They refuse to believe there is anything on the outside of their cave. They remain, even when freedom is within reach. I call this, Atheism.

I am not being overly simplistic or emotional. Atheism is more than not believing there is a God. It is an out and out rejection of God, Jesus, the cross and all that it stands for. It is running back into the cave when the way out is right before you. But why? Why would someone not want to see light for what it is? Why would someone choose shadows over substance? The answer to that question is the reason why Plato’s cave works as such a great example.

The pain and disorientation of being subjected to light after so long in darkness is difficult to overcome. I am reminded of the movie The Matrix. In this film mankind is being used by machines as slaves. They place us in a fantasy world, a dream world that seems perfectly real. There is a scene in the movie when the main character Neo wakes up from the dream world and sees the real world for what it is. For the next few scenes he is in complete disorientation. Nothing makes sense anymore. When he is finally told the complete truth about the human race, that everyone is a prisoner and everything he thought he knew was a lie, it is almost too much to bear. He stumbles backward saying that he will not believe it. He falls to the floor, vomits, and passes out. Why? He was set free? Why react that way? Because the prison had become everything to him, his very identity. When it was taken away he had no idea who he was.

I think the reason Neo passed out in the movie is the same reason why Richard Dawkins writes what I quoted earlier. All our lives have been lived in our darkness memorizing shadows, and some of us get really good at it. We know our shadows well. We get so used to this that we find our identity in our knowledge and mastery of the known universe. Imagine what would happen if you told Richard Dawkins or Brian Green that all of their knowledge, for that matter all of the knowledge gathered about the known universe, amounts to a puppet shadow show on the back wall of a cave. They will laugh at you. They will call you delusional. They will attack your belief at every term. Partly out of pride, partly out of fear, but mostly out of an inability to recognize light when they see it. Light to them is only pain, a “capriciously malevolent bully.” There is such anger and resentment in the tone used here and in many atheistic writings. It begs a question: How can you be angry at someone that is not there?

Today’s atheists come in several forms. Some simply choose not to believe content to let others play in their so called fantasies while they remain in their darkness. Others are far more aggressive; some enforcing a greater restraint on religious expression calling it offensive, some demanding abolishment of religion and faith institutions, some boldly repeating blasphemy (as if it is a challenge to repeat someone else’s words), and still some (very few, but some) have gone so far as to commit murder to try to eliminate those they feel are too stupid to continue in our evolutionary gene-pool. In summary, there are conservative atheists, moderate atheists, liberal atheists, and even militant atheists. Very much like every other religion and faith tradition on the planet. What does that mean? Atheism is its own religion, its own faith. It has a core belief and list of guidelines that are essential to remaining within the faith.

Those who have an atheistic viewpoint of God are those who have seen His light and have chosen to run the other way. I will not call them cowards, because I have my own fear when I look at the reality of eternity, the truth of the cross, and the beckoning of the Holy Spirit to step out into the unknown. But I do pity those who run back into darkness. They memorize shadows in the dark, but as my eyes adjust to the marvelous light shining around me I am beginning to see color and substance of the things I have always heard about but never actually seen.

This next allegory takes the cave theme a bit farther and explores the relationship between those who say the cave is all there is and those who have experienced more. Though the story itself is original, the idea for the story comes from a scene in The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis.

Imagine a cave, a deep dark, cold cave, far in the deep trenches of the earth. Imagine that this cave is your home. You were born here, your grandparents, your ancestors died here. All you have ever known are the walls, the stalactites hanging from the sky, and the stalagmites that rise from the ground. You have never seen the sky, heard of clouds, felt the sun. All of your life has been spent in the cave of this Underworld.

Here in Underworld there is light, fire was discovered eons ago and torches light your way through the labyrinth of passageways. Water seeps through the rocks and collects in pools, clean and clear. Moss grows on the side of the walls that can be used to create stew. Cave dwelling animals frequent the caves to provide your people with food. No one knows quite where the water and food comes from, but they have some working theories. Generations have come and gone and no one has ever seen the outside world. It would be common sense, if you lived here in Underworld, to suspect that this was all there is, all there ever was. This belief is taught and encouraged. You would simply not ask questions and continue in the journey to survive.

One day, as you are harvesting moss from a wall to provide your family with a supper that evening you chance to see some travelers coming your way. This is not at all unusual but there is something different about these travelers. They wear clothes with bright colors that reflect the light of the lantern they carry, one of them has dark skin and dark hair, unusual for cave dwellers. You approach them with caution. Let’s say, for imagination’s sake that they speak your language; that you understand what they say.

“Good day to you,” they say.

You don’t know how to respond. The concept of “day” is foreign to you.

“Hello?” is all you can think to say back to them.

“Tell me, do you live here?”

Again, you don’t know how to answer; of course you live HERE where else would you live.

“Yes,” is the only answer available.

“Are there more of you?” Another one asks.

At this point you are completely annoyed. What kind of question is that? If they are HERE than obviously you are not alone. Again you tell them yes and they ask you to take them to your village. You comply.

Upon reaching the village center, one of the travelers stands on a rock and begins describing in detail the world in which they come from, the Overworld. He tells stories about, sky, sun, trees, hills, birds, and stars. Most of your people snicker, some to themselves, other out loud. But the louder people laugh, the louder these travelers talk. While this man is up on the rock speaking loudly, others are walking among the crowd trying to start conversations and always referencing the other world just above their heads. This goes on for a while and causes a great ruckus in the village, till it finally becomes too much. The leaders of the city come and apprehend the travelers and bring them to the village counsel.

Here in Underworld the village counsel tries to determine what is true and false, wrong and right. They are considered the torch of justice presiding over the affairs of the village. The whole village has come to witness this hearing, as the travelers are brought before the counsel for questioning.

“Now,” one of the older counsel members begins. “You say you come a place called the Overworld.

“Yes sir, we do.” One of the travelers answers with a smile.

“Where exactly is this… Overworld?

“Up there,” another traveler states pointing up.

“Is there a world in the cracks of the rocks on the ceiling?” Another counselman laughs.

“No, no, it’s above this world. Up above and outside this cave.”

“There is no world beyond this world.” A counsel lady proclaims.

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I have to disagree,” a traveler states. “I have been there. I have seen the night sky full of stars and the bright morning sun come up over the horizon.”

“Now you are just making up words and speaking gibberish, what is ‘night’, ‘sky’, ‘stars’, ‘morning’, or even this ‘sun’ that you speak of?”

“Well, you see sir, that lamp there, it is round and yellow and gives light to this whole room. The sun is like that just much bigger and brighter, giving light to all of Overworld as it hangs in the sky.”

The oldest counselman shakes his head. “It hangs from what? See, they can not think out clearly what this ‘sun’ must be. They can only say that it is like the lamp. Your ‘sun’ is not real, it is a delusion. There is nothing in that delusion that you did not get from the lamp. The lamp is the real thing; your ‘sun’ is simply the ramblings of the insane.”

The questioning continues till one of the counsel women says, “To tell you the truth, this a beautiful story, a wonderful picture that you paint of another world, but it would fit you better if you were all children. Look there is nothing in your make-believe that you didn’t put there from this world, the real one.”

“Indeed,” chimes in the oldest counselman. “You should put these childish ways behind you and help us in this world. We need you to contribute to our village to be productive in this world not in your fantasy.”

“Otherwise,” pipes in a younger member. “I’m afraid we will have to contain you to keep you from the disturbing the peace any longer.”

There is a long silence in the room, till one of the travelers takes one step forward.

“Just one more word please, ladies and gentlemen of the counsel. Suppose for a moment that we have made up all of these things – sun, stars, sky, grass, trees, and everything else. Suppose we have. In that case all I can say is that the made-up things seem a great deal more important and beautiful than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of world of yours is all that there is and there is no other world. Well, then it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s the funny thing about all this. You call us children making up a game, but a few babies playing a game have made-up a world that makes yours look hollow. I would take our make-believe over your reality any day. So with your leave, we will leave Underworld and go back to where we came from.”

The counsel is of course very angry at these words, but they decide to let the travelers go. If only to prove that there is no other world. In the minds of the counsel the travelers would leave and wander the caves for a while until they got hungry and came back asking for food. That’s when they would come to their senses and join the rational people of Underworld.

The travelers leave, even a few of the Underworlders join them as they go by the same passageway that they came in. There is peace again in Underworld and the travelers will never be heard from again. It is thought that they were lost in the cave and had died of starvation or thirst, but numerous expeditions have come up empty. The people still whisper about the travelers and wonder if there is any truth to a world above Underworld.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” C.S. Lewis

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