Imagine you awoke for the first time in this world as a prisoner in a dark cave. In the center of the cave is a free-standing wall, where you are chained, unable to move your head, with your eyes fixed on the cave’s perimeter wall. On the opposite side of the free-standing wall is a bonfire burning bright and positioned high enough above the wall to cast shadows onto the perimeter wall that you’ve spent your life staring at.
It does not take long for you to notice that you are not the only prisoner chained to the wall. Over time you attempt to communicate with those around you. At first it’s slow, but in time you both agree on a basis of words and their structure and function. Inevitably, you ask the underlying question that still lingers to this day, “Who am I and how did I get here?”
After a while your captors begin to circle the fire, holding idols and speaking their native tongue. Their words echo and the fire casts shadows of them and the idols on the perimeter wall. The sounds and shadows are all that you know. However, the more you ponder their existence, you find yourself in awe and overwhelmed with revelation as you contemplate all the possibilities of what they could be.
You attempt to communicate the complexity of what you see to your fellow prisoners but they struggle to respond. While you are all seeing the same thing, the lack of shared knowledge and language prevents you from articulating the meaning of the shadows. If you could only find the words, your lives just might change forever.
The shadows start to become familiar and you begin to compose a logical formulation of what you see. You say, “These shadows are connected to us. They are real and we know this because we see them. We hear them. They speak, but differently. They move, but freely. They’re alive, but for what purpose?”
You begin to name the shadows and you understand them by the way they move and sound, by how they interact with the other shadows. Their patterns of behavior become predictable and inspire you to dive deeper into the questions of their existence.
This is not enough though and you feel destined to uncover more. You become increasingly more self-aware, understanding what it actually means to be a prisoner and wondering if it implies that you have a captor. There’s no doubt now that there must be more to life, more to this world. You begin to thrash about, forcing the chains that bound you beyond their limits until finally, they snap.
For the first time you are free; free to move like the shadows, free from what you thought you knew, as your curiosity drowns your thoughts in questions. You begin to pry yourself off the floor until you’re standing on two feet, weak and shaky, but standing nonetheless. You make your way to the edge of the wall, your hand dragging across the crumbling stone to guide the way. You are at the edge now and your heart is like a series of explosions as it beats out of your chest.
Your whole life has led to this moment and it’s time to learn the truth. You turn the corner and your eyes begin to swell with tears as you are truly seeing for the first time.
Adaptation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
Phase 1 of 4
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave begins by introducing the cave and the captors, while following the story of the prisoners. My adaptation of this allegory attempts to put you into the shackles of the prisoners to try and understand the shadows that they come to know so well. Plato originally wrote this as a dialogue, like most of his writings, between Socrates and one of his students. I believe the dialogue gives an outside looking in perspective and I would like to do the opposite with my adaptations. This allegory can be separated into four main phases. We will investigate each phase, one by one, starting with this post.
In phase one, we find a parallel between the prisoners in the cave and the introduction of humanity in the beginning of Genesis. After the fall of man in Genesis 3, God can be perceived as a shadow on the wall. Humanity plays the role of the prisoners and it is a role that we still play so well. Over and over again, we find ourselves shackled to a wall, content with a world built from shadows. It was true in Plato’s time and it remains true to this day. Plato wrote this allegory as an attempt to tackle the same questions that we are seeking to answer in this series on knowledge.
Phase one focuses on the shadows and their true meaning. The shadows seemed simple at first, but the motion and sounds that came from the captors caused the prisoners to see the shadows for more than what they were. The complexity of the shadows became apparent as time passed, encouraging the prisoners to become self-aware. It’s almost as if the shadows acted as a background that gave context to their very own existence.
I believe that the analogy of God as the shadows on the wall best fits the timeline between humanity being banished from the garden and Moses meeting God in the burning bush. Whether you believe it was a physical garden or a metaphorical one, the implications are the same; humanity became self-aware. However, they also became aware that this world consists of more than oneself. With this awareness, the potential for both good and evil increases. This is illustrated throughout the remainder of Genesis.
From the first blood spilt on the ground, to the promise of a nation, to the enslavement of Israel, God remained mysterious. But then there is a moment where everything changes. A moment where God reveals a mere glimpse of His mystery. God appears to Moses in a burning bush and reveals His name for the first time, “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH,” which is translated to “I AM WHO I AM.” However, when Moses told the Israelites who sent him, he said “YAHWEH ASHER YAHWEH,” which is the third person form. Moses now knows God in a way that He had not been known previously; by his name.
A name is powerful and important for both affinity and survival. For example, imagine walking down the street and someone screams, “LION!!!” This immediately induces a fight or flight response that will remain until safety is obtained. Now imagine the same scenario but the person screams, “KITTEN!!!” It’s the name that evokes an emotional response that might cause a person to run towards the scream, rather than away from it.
A name carries meaning and a depth to it that can elicit a response in an instant. This was true as the prisoner turned their head around the corner to see the captors for the first time. At the sight of the captors and their idols, the prisoner made the connection to the shadows that they created. This correlation would have carried with it all the meaning and feelings that the prisoner had for the shadows that they had named.
God remains a shadow on the wall for much of our modern world. Not just for nonbelievers, but also for God-fearing people. I do not see myself as an exception to this claim, which is why The Nerdy Bible exists. Even with an abundance of knowledge, many remain shackled to a wall with the idea of God reduced to a mere shadow. So often we identify God by the ideas and names that the world has attached to Him, rather than by the name that He revealed himself by.
I encourage you to ask God to tell you his name. He may direct you to Exodus 3, or maybe He’ll reveal Himself in another way. Knowing His name is an intimate start to a potential relationship, but it’s up to you to find meaning in that name. It is not necessary for you to believe that God exists to begin to seek who He is. Whether you believe that God is real or not, He has a name and a story. It’s an ancient story and one that continues to change people from the inside out if they let it. It continues to breathe life into the lifeless and give hope for the impossible. It’s a story that begins with a word and ends with The Word (Jesus), but it’s up to you to read the words of the story and wrestle with their meaning.
What name or identity have you associated with God that resembles shadows more than who He truly is?