Sherlock Holmes and Idolatry

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   While examining a hat left at a crime scene, Sherlock Holmes turns to his partner Dr. John Watson and asks him to deduce what he can.

“I can see nothing,” said Watson, handing it back to Holmes.

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing from your inferences.”[i]

The mystery behind our own lack of self-awareness is likely hidden in our idolatry. The Psalmist puts it this way: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths,” (Psalm 135:15-17).

The convicting part comes in the concluding line of this section of the Psalm and it’s here where we are told that “those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” Deducing our condition further, we come to the horrifying conclusion that over time, we have taken on the traits and the abilities of our idols. If we seek gold or silver or status, then we take on more anti-social behavior that reflects the social capability of dollars and valuable metals. We may pursue pleasure in the form of sex or substances and we may become sensual and expressive, but also temporarily satisfied, needing to be stimulated regularly or the feeling subsides and melts away. We become addicts who need a fix. Further cheapening these pursuits is the fact that we trade relational interaction with God who listens to our prayers, who speaks in sacred Scripture, and who sees all things for gods that are deaf, dumb, and blind.[ii]

Holmes would say to us, “you fail, however to reason from what you see,” because we have failed to truly see. One of the key traits that consistently sets Sherlock Holmes apart from others within Scotland Yard and what gets him work as a consulting detective isn’t simply his intellect, but his keen ability to be observant. If you have ever watched a film or television episode dealing with Holmes, you undoubtedly saw him showcase his keen eye for detail and his powers of observation. And the admonition for us all is that to truly live a Christian life, set apart from the mundane and profane, we must be keen observers of not only culture, but first and foremost our own hearts and propensity toward idols.

[i] The Blue Carbuncle, p. 97

[ii] This was originally made clear to me in a sermon series from Dick Lucas entitled Religion Made on Planet Earth originally preached at St. Helen’s Church at Bishopsgate in central London, England on 2, 9, 16 April 2000.


Tim Keller on Idolatry

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