For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, …Hebrews 10:1
See to it that you make everything according to the pattern you were shown on the mountain.Hebrews 8:5, Exodus 25:40
Do you remember the allegory of the cave by Plato? In it, people settled for shadows of things carried behind them and were gladly restricted to a cave instead of seeing and touching the real stuff in perfect freedom.
The Bible tells us that Plato was unto something here.
Hebrews even talks of three levels instead of two: shadow, image, and reality.
The author of Hebrews informs us that the old covenant was a covenant of shadows of the good things to come. But he or she also shares with us that we now have the very image of things in the new covenant.
Two questions may arise from what I just said:
She? Why are you calling the author of Hebrews a he or she?
We do not know who wrote Hebrews, and one of the theories assumes that Priscilla did. There are reasons for that, and I just wanted to throw this in here.
The second question could be this:
Wait, we do not have the very things?
Having an image instead of a shadow does make things clearer. We see many more details. But still, the image is two-dimensional and lacks another two dimensions or more to be real. And even if it were a movie, a hologram, a carven image, anything three or even four-dimensional, it still would not be the real thing.
Thinking about this statement, it becomes clear: we have not attained it. We are not broken through.
Let me give an example:
When you are pregnant, there is hope, the expectation of a baby.
There are shadows expressing themselves in a changing body, a growing belly, but even before that, there are hormonal changes and more.
As soon as we suspect a pregnancy, we crave images. The first one might be on the verge of shadow and image: the pregnancy test. Ultrasound imagery provides much clearer images, but it is not a baby that we are seeing. It quite literally is the echoes of a baby made visible.
But it is in giving birth that all this becomes a reality.
Does it stop there? By no means. Parents will see their baby’s potential and envision the future, for which the baby itself is a shadow at the moment.
They will see their baby walking, and the baby’s healthy legs are a shadow. Once the baby starts crawling and even pulling itself up on furniture, this becomes an image, and the image slowly becomes a reality with the first steps. Those show that walking is controlled falling. The image gets sharper daily and soon fades into the background because it has become routine.
New shadows have come to the forefront.
The same is happening in our faith life.
There is one danger to this: if we mistake the shadows or images for reality, we cling to them and will not proceed and grow.
We can settle for the shadows, like the people in Plato’s allegory. Or we can be proud about having progressed to the images and camp out there.
This happens in all areas: our brain’s left hemisphere loves models and maps. But it tends to settle for them and declare them real.
Maybe I have a significant advantage over most people. I have aphantasia, no inner eye.
I do not see anything when you tell me to think of an apple. Some people see a shadow of an apple, and some see a rather vivid image or even a scene like a video.
This shadow or image deeply engrains their understanding of an apple in their world model. That does not only work with apples, but with everything we can imagine in the truest sense of the word, everything we can picture.
Not having a visual representation of things in my mind that replays on thinking about something has me much less attached to what makes up that thing.
The same is true for sound, smell, taste, and touch. As most of my readers know, I did not smell or taste for about three decades before that was restored.
Since I can smell and taste, I get attached to certain things much more than before. I experience cravings when I walk past a bakery or stroll over a market.
I can only imagine how bad things would turn if I smelled stuff just thinking about it. Let’s talk Spekulatius, a spiced biscuit eaten around Christmas. Now, I only know that there is a pack of them on my wife’s desk, and I am usually only tempted when I see them walking by her desk.
I think having an inner eye, nose, tongue, ear, you name it, would be directly measurable in pounds and kilograms.
The same is true about our beliefs.
If somebody has seen a demon, it is hard for them to question the existence of evil beings. The same is true if somebody has developed a vivid image of a demon.
If somebody has a model of heaven and, consciously or subconsciously, has developed some visuals, smells, tastes, expected touch, and audio, it is harder to let go.
But not only that. If you can think back to situations when you were taught about the concept of heaven or the concept of hell and envision the preacher you trust telling you in vivid illustrations, those depictions make it harder to let go.
The Bible shows us that we are, as humanity and as individuals, to grow past shadows and images. We are to create things according to the pattern that God shows us.
Our ability to see and comprehend what is, in fact, incomprehensible to us now grows with experience and maturity. This means we must go back to the pattern we were shown and adjust our depiction as we comprehend more.
Going back to the pattern does not mean referring back to the depiction or the memory of the pattern we have before our inner eye. It means looking at the pattern itself again through a fresh lens and understanding.
Let go of what you mean to know, trust your relationship with God, and revise your worldview based on a more profound insight you have been given.
Shadows will become images and then reality. Later, you will learn that what was real to you was a shadow of something much more profound.