It did not take long for some to see and remark on the Christian symbolism in the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners. The Chilean Catholic bishops issued a statement referring to the “Easter moment” that the entire Chilean nation had witnessed. There are additional levels of symbolism. Not only were the miners “born again,” but their virtual resurrection took the form of being raised to the surface of this Earth from its ultra dark bowels where, like Lazarus (John’s Gospel, ch. 11), they had been entombed. In a motif so often used in John’s Gospel, the miners went from darkness to light.
Here are just a few, quick, examples of John’s symbolism:
-- In [Jesus] was life, and His life was the light of mankind. (Prologue, 1:4)
-- Everyone who does evil deeds avoids the light… (3:20)
-- I am the light of the world. (8:12; 9:5)
-- I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me should not remain in darkness. (12:46)
This symbolism was continued by the Apostle Paul, thus:
-- You all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are neither of the night nor of the darkness. (1 Th 5:5)
--Walk as children of the light (Eph. 5:8)
Cat Stevens’ song, “Peace Train,” continues this symbolism:
’Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train.
O Peace Train, take this country, come take me home again.
Yet, the rescue of the Chilean miners goes deeper into Christian symbolism and belief. Their rescue did not occur without someone (actually six) going down into the abyss, becoming like them and subjecting themselves to their same travails, in order to prepare them for their ascent to future glory. The analogous Christian theme is that of Christ Who, though God, became man, and later, between His death and His resurrection, descended into hell (or limbo). (A year ago, I described an artistic expression of this descent in an essay for these pages on Damien the Leper.
In the Western canon, there is another expression of light and darkness that we might consider in connection with the Chilean miners’ ordeal and rescue. It is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, given to his students in his “Republic.” Imagine, he wrote, that there were people who lived in a cave their entire lives and were restrained from looking in all but one direction. In this one direction was a wall of the cave upon which were imposed shadows caused by a fire (which they could not see) behind them. Certainly the shadows would be real to them. And, when one of them escaped, he would be incapable of looking directly at the bright fire, and would be incapable of believing that the fire was real and the shadows only indirectly so. If the escapee should rise to the surface, the sun and everything made visible by the sun would be, at first blush, false. And, should he ever return to the cave, as a kind of philosopher, Plato wondered whether he would have any hope of being able to persuade the cave dwellers of the truths he had seen.
The Chilean miners are now living in the light of day. If they are Christians, they will “live in the light” and do good deeds. If they are truth-seeking men, they will strive to distinguish for themselves and others between true light and false shadows.
I’d like to draw from another source in the Western canon that used the duality of light and darkness, but in a different way. About 731, a British monk by the name of Bede (672/3-735), known to history as “Venerable Bede,” completed “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.” In chapter 13, he recounted a story of the missionary Paulinus’ visit to King Edwin and his councilors in 627. At supper, one of the councilors arose and compared the life of a man to a sparrow that came out of a winter storm into the room with its fire where they were all sitting and quickly left through another opening. He said men live in the light and are utterly ignorant of what has gone before and what will follow. If Paulinus could tell us of these things, we should follow the teaching. Paulinus rose and responded by informing them of these realities. The king and his councilors agreed it was “good news” and became Christians.
Suppose the Chilean miners and we inhabit a world where all is light and all that is lit is real and known. Would we be humble enough to recognize that what is dark is not known? And would we be willing to have an outsider illuminate it for us?
In a new book, “The Grand Design,” physicist Stephen Hawking argues that universes are the result of spontaneous creation. King’s College Professor of Mathematics and Science Bruce L. Gordon has replied that he would have Hawking ask a question Hawking himself once asked, “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?” Between Gordon and Hawking, which one is illuminating the unknown for us?
James Thunder is a Washington DC attorney who writes for The American Spectator.