In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the philosopher imagined a group of people imprisoned in a cave since birth. They are chained in a way that they cannot move. Even their heads are immobile. Behind them a fire casts light on a wall in before them. Also behind them, but in front of the fire, is a walkway. People pass over the walkway carrying objects in their arms and on their heads. Some carry boxes; some carry statues of animals. Of those on the walkway, the prisoners hear only distorted echoes bouncing off of the wall.
The prisoners see this movement and attempt to explain it to each other. They theorize. They detect patterns. They make predictions. Eventually they develop an entire, wholly valid cosmology describing the world they perceive. Still, what they see is just a shadow of a reality they have never experienced. It is a very strange scenario.
But it is just an absurdity, right? Just a allegory; a fairy tale. Maybe, but it helps us gain insight into the limits of our ability to perceive the world around us. For example, you have never seen a triangle. Not really. Sure, you can draw a triangle on the chalkboard and tell us the sum of its angles equals 180 degrees, but they don’t really add up. You can attempt to get very close using a protractor, but all you will get is very close. The sum of the angles of a triangle, by definition, is 180 degrees. Exactly. Not a billionth of a degree off. Not a septillionth of a degree off. If an angle is off by an arc equal to the diameter of an electron a billion light years from the vertex of the angle, it isn’t a triangle. It is an approximation of a triangle.
So you have never seen a real triangle. The triangle on the board is a shadow on the wall. The models we use to approximate triangles provide us with the information we need to understand triangles but triangles are pretty simple concepts. Much of reality is more complex than the nature of a triangle.
Sure, we understand a lot about the physical world around us. We categorize things and assign them nouns in order to identify them. We study them and we predict their behavior. We learn and we understand. Still, what we are seeing are approximations of the physical world. These approximations are the basis for our limited understanding of the universe.
One of the greatest joys in my life has been the feeling of awed wonder that studying and really understanding a scientific principle. A true understanding of the various aspects physical world is one of the highest experiences of which the human mind is capable. A true scientific understanding is like music and poetry and love and spiritualism… It is profound aesthetic joy.
But I have no doubt that, at our best, we are seeing but a tiny slice of the sum total of metaphysical reality. No matter how well we understand what we see, hear, smell, touch and taste, our understanding is but a model based on our ability to perceive. We are limited by our physical senses and the constraints of the human mind. There is no reason to doubt that there is more to the universe (multiverse?) than we can ever comprehend. We are necessarily prisoners staring at a wall of shadows.
This realization changed my life. Rejecting egoism at the heart of the belief that I can see and understand everything was my first step toward Faith. When I accepted that there is more to reality than we can perceive and comprehend, I let go of my arrogance and my cynicism and accepted that there is more to reality than I can see and touch. I opened my mind and, lo and behold, something special happened. I was given a Gift. It was real and it was substantial. It is the Gift of Faith.
It is understanding. It is peace. It is Joy. It is knowledge.
Scripture is the message but what we read in the bible is also made up of shadows on the wall. It doesn’t represent a literal interpretation of the world any more than does science but it gives us insight. It helps us understand what is going on outside of the cave in which we live. It tells us for the first time that the shadows are, in fact, shadows. The hard part is that until you believe, there is nothing to believe in. Once you believe, the answers pour forth.
There is no contradiction between faith and reason or between God and Science. Science is beautiful and its pursuit one of my greatest pleasures. Faith, however, allows me to know that there is a world beyond the cave in which we live. Once the Gift of Faith had been given, I was still able to see nothing but shadows, but I knew for certain that there is far more to the cosmos and that I have a place in it. Faith offers something that science never can: It transcends the shadows. Faith isn’t an illusion. It is very real; a substantial Gift. Today I celebrate the Message in the shadows that have been cast upon the wall before me. The Lord has given me the means to see in the shadows that there is more to existence than light and dark. The Gift is real. It is joy. It is wonderful. Happy Easter.Share