The Privileged Life: Cave Mentality—Withdrawal or Refuge?

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by.” (Psalm 57:1)

Twice this month, my adult children have invited me to join them in nearby caves. I’ve gone along, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. 

Call it speluncaphobia…an obscure word for fear of caves. I loathe the idea of inching through narrow passageways underground, full of bats, radon, and slimy things. Dive under water to get to the next section? Forget it. Give me broad daylight and fresh air, as fast as I can clamber out of there.

Nevertheless, I ventured down into limestone “hobbit holes” and, to my surprise, enjoyed them immensely. 

The first, Bristol Caverns, has fascinating cascade-like formations of mineral deposits inside immense chambers. It’s well-lighted, with a stream bringing in salamanders, fish, and other water critters. The second cave, at the historic Tipton-Haynes farm homestead, leads through a tiny dark crevice to an opening on the other side of the hill…no formations, but a fun little passageway to explore. Still, I was glad to leave and breathe in the fresh, mountain air outdoors.

Caves are curious things in the Scriptures. They can be vaults for burial of the dead. They also serve as safe places to hide from danger. Elijah falls into the latter category when bad ol’ Queen Jezebel orders his death. 

Elijah has just personally witnessed the firepower of God from heaven to burn up his sacrifice (1 Kings 18). After he prays to God for a drought (that lasts more than three years), he prays for rain, and God provides a downpour. You’d think Elijah would be pretty confident by now, right?

Wrong. Only one chapter later, when Jezebel’s threat reaches his ears, Elijah runs for his life…to hide in a cave on Mount Horeb. He doesn’t want to face his problem; he just wants it to go away. But the Lord has other plans for him. God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah practically moans his lament, that he is all alone and in danger of death.

God’s response is to send devastating forces—a gale-force wind, an earthquake, and fire. But He waits to speak—in a still, small voice. God repeats His question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then, He sends Elijah on his next mission, along with promises of victory. Elijah leaves the cave and returns to his prophetic ministry, even calling an assistant, Elisha, to join him. It’s a remarkable turnaround.

Do you find yourself in a cave right now? Have you isolated yourself from the rest of the world in an effort to escape conflict or problems?

Sure, it’s good to retreat at times, for healing and personal reflection. We especially need solitude to converse with the Holy Spirit, to plead for help with our problems and to listen for His still, small voice of comfort and guidance. We need “caves” for refuge.

But when we linger in our caves to avoid dealing with issues, we flounder—through a naïve assumption that problems will go away by themselves and through a lack of trust in God’s wisdom and providence. In the same way cellphone signals are lost underground, we lose our connection to His Spirit-filled strength when we retreat within ourselves.

Jesus, too, was in a cave tomb. But He didn’t stay long—death could not hold Him there. His resurrection and ascension prove that caves aren’t intended to be our ultimate dwelling places.

If you need to withdraw from daily life, deliberately spend that time with God. Let Him nourish your soul with His presence. Ask for the power of Christ to resolve your problems—take them before Him with confidence in His willingness and ability to help. 

Then leave the cave. Exit without fear, knowing that Jesus Christ has already won the victory for you. Let His light lure you back into the abundant life and work He has waiting for you.

Jesus, we have too often abandoned You and Your presence by retreating into self-absorption. Bring us out of caves into the brilliant light of Your great love. Help us respond in kind by calling others to join us from their seclusion, inviting them to join our song of praise to You. In Your light-filled name, Amen.

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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The narrow entrance to the Tipton-Haynes farmstead cave/passage
Some of the eerie limestone formations in Bristol Caverns, caused by dripping water and sediment deposits
A river/stream runs through Bristol Caverns, bringing in fish and other water critters.
Inside the passageway cave at Tipton-Haynes farmstead
Ah, daylight! The view to the opening on the other side of the Tipton-Haynes cave hill….
This part of Bristol Caverns is just plain creepy…like something out of a Star Wars movie.

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