The Cave

26 September 2013, 06:00



For over two years, the Recovering Grace team has devoted themselves to this important ministry. Oftentimes, we are asked why we invest our time, energy, and talents into this endeavor. We're asked why we don't just "move on" and let the past be the past. We believe that the following short story, a paraphrase from Plato's Republic, illustrates exactly why we continue to do what we do. For when we look at those unwittingly trapped in a legalistic system of moralistic propositions, we remember that we once lived there too, and our passion is renewed for helping others discover for themselves what it means to walk in the "real world" of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His love and grace.


Once upon a time, there was a cave, and in this cave, there were a group of people who were captives. They had been there since birth and knew no other life. Indeed, they did not even know they were captives. These captives were chained in such a way that they were always looking at the wall directly in front of them. They could neither look to the right or to the left. Behind and back a ways from these captives, there was a great bonfire that burned continually and cast shadows upon the wall at which the captives continually looked.

The captors of these people in the cave were strange people and took to educating the captives in a strange way. Daily, they paraded items behind the captives but in front of the bonfire so that the items cast shadows upon the wall. For instance, they paraded a large cutout of a horse in front of the bonfire, and it cast the shadow of the horse onto the wall. The captors said to their prisoners, “This is a horse.” The captors did this every day with many different objects, and the captives, in this way, gained an understanding of the world. But it was a shadowy, flat, deceptive view of the world and all that was in it. This was the world that the captives knew: a world of shadows.

One day, one of the captives escaped from the cave and climbed out into the world. As he encountered the real world, he felt nothing but terror and anguish at first. The blazing sunlight pierced his eyes, and he was as a blind man. The rushing sounds of life assaulted his ears until he thought he would go insane. Then, as his eyes grew accustomed to the light of the sun, and he began to see, new terrors (or were they wonders?) barraged his mind. His brain couldn’t process what was happening to him. All around him, he saw colors and shapes, depth and breadth, and he was amazed (when he was no longer terrified) at the richness and fullness of life. He remembered the world of shadows in which he had lived so long and wept for the years he had lost.

Once the man had adjusted to the real world and could begin to grasp the truth of reality, he realized that he had to go back and tell his fellow captives and friends about what he had seen. He could not leave them to reside in the land of shadows, cut off from the color, mystery, and beautiful agony of real life. Rallying his strength, he found the entrance of the cave and crept back down into it, proceeding with fear and trembling lest he should be caught and imprisoned once again. When he reached the captives, he hid himself and bided his time until the captors were away and he could speak to the prisoners alone.

He crept up to the nearest captive, and said, “Friend, you must let me free you, and you must come with me. I have escaped into the world above, and it is so beautiful that words cannot express it! There are colors, shapes, and sounds you could never imagine. The trees are not flat and black: They are majestic, full, and alive! And the sea! You can’t imagine!”

 And on and on he went until he realized that his friend was gazing at him with confusion and pity. The friend said, “You certainly have gone mad. There is no world above. You have been chasing fantasies. Come back and be with us where you belong.”

The captive who had escaped was crestfallen. Why could he not explain things right? Why couldn’t his friend believe? He spoke to several of the other captives, telling them the same story but trying to explain better, to be more specific, so that they would understand and leave with him. He even tried to loosen the manacles that bound them so that they were always facing the wall. He thought if he did this, they would begin to taste freedom and want more. But the other captives only laughed at him and told him he was crazy, just as the first had done.

Finally, fearing that he might be discovered by the guards and imprisoned once again, he crept away in the darkness and found the passage leading up to the world above. He scaled the passage with sadness for his friends, but with gladness that he was leaving the kingdom of shadows and would enter the realm of beauty and light again. He determined he would do all he could to go back one day and lead his friends away from the shadows and into the land of light.

~ Paraphrased from Book 7 of Plato’s Republic
in The Discovery of Deduction by Joelle Hodge,
Aaron Larsen, and Shelly Johnson
Reprinted by Permission.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Eliza September 26, 2013 Reply

    This describes it very well. So thankful for those who helped me realize I needed to be free.

  2. grateful September 26, 2013 Reply

    Reading this reminds me of when I was born again, most of my old friends are still in the cave.

  3. MatthewS September 26, 2013 Reply

    This short story says it so well. From the joy of having one's eyes opened to the pain of realizing that the others who are still in the cave see you as an enemy, not as a friend.

  4. LJ October 1, 2013 Reply

    I wanted to cry as I just read this article. It made me realize how sad a life of legalism is in comparison with what God wants us to experience. May the Lord continue to use your ministry to free individuals from the bondage of legalism! Thank you for your dedication to this ministry! (And I lived in a life of legalism for a number of years)

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