The Christian Life according to Sherlock Holmes
“You see, but you do not observe.”
So says Sherlock Holmes to John Watson in the first episode of BBC’s revival of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective. Filming has just wrapped for a third season, which is set to air sometime in 2014, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes) and Martin Freeman (Watson) have already signed onto a 4th season. I couldn’t be more excited. Not only was this show well written and acted, it was also faithful to the original material, albeit set within a modern context. But even more than all these, my love for this show was born when Sherlock became a sort of guide for me in the Christian life.
Now I do not mean to claim that the Christian life is analogous to solving intricate mysteries and trying to overthrow evil masterminds (though I sometimes wish that were the case). Nor is this an attempt to justify my consumption of this (and other types of) media. Rather, Sherlock’s way of interacting with the world around him has provided me with a contemporary example of faithful discipleship.
It all started with the simple quote above. “You see, but you do not observe.” To everyone else, Sherlock appears to have a superpower, sharing information about others that seems too personal for him to have known. Wherever he finds himself, in a matter of seconds, he can determine where a person has been, what they did, and what’s going on in their lives. But what seems like superhuman abilities are actually highly-trained observational skills. Sherlock isn’t seeing or hearing something that other’s can’t see. Both he and Watson may see the same thing, but where Watson sees a simple pocket watch, Sherlock observes the scratches around the dial, the small chip in the glass cover, the previous owner’s name etched over with a new name. He observes and draws conclusions – no magic necessary.
Just as Sherlock observes the world around him with the intention of picking up lost details, so too the Christian is called to keep an eye and ear out at all times for the movement of God. It is very easy to go through life seeing what everyone else sees. We go to work, see the same people, perform similar tasks, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy our spare time doing what we love. But the Christian doesn’t have the luxury of just “seeing” their way through life. The Christian, by entrance into the Kingdom of God, is invited to a life-long game of I-Spy with the Spirit of God. As he moves all around us, we are given new eyes to see what has always been around us. Where others see a good time with friends, we can point out God’s peace mediating those relationships. Where others see a year-end bonus, we can point out God’s providing hand. Where others see a painful and trying situation, we can direct their attention to the presence of God in the midst of that difficulty.
I get excited about the prospect of finding God in the small, hidden places of life. The opportunity to see with fresh eyes, to observe with a new lens the things I generally take for granted gives me a renewed vigor to enter more deeply into daily life. God is not calling us to retreat into isolation so that we can more deeply experience him apart from others. God is inviting us to dive into the daily grind, to observe and proclaim his movement in areas where he previously felt absent. He’s inviting us, in the words of Sherlock, to not just see, but to observe.