Sherlock Homes and the Death of Certainty
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” – Sherlock Homes
The human mind, at least the modern human mind, seems to be hardwired with a desire for certainty. We’re uncomfortable with doubt. A + B should always equal C. If we do this, we should get that. There is an answer for everything. And that answer is logical. It’s comfortable. We want things to make sense.
Science teaches us that there is an order to the universe. There are laws of gravity and nature. What goes up must come down. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The sun rises and sets every day. Like clockwork.
From clocks to computers to cars to cameras the things we’ve built run according to predetermined patterns. Hit this keystroke, push this button, turn this wheel and we know what will happen. It happens every time.
Music has a rhythm. A time signature. An order.
There are rules for grammar.
A + B = C
And that’s a good thing isn’t it?
Because without order in our lives there would be chaos. If what went up sometimes came down, we couldn’t function. We couldn’t fly an airplane, build a skyscraper, or toss a baseball.
We couldn’t even toast a Pop-Tart.
This need for answers, and order and certainty extends to our spiritual life as well. We want a purpose for everything. And our need for a seemingly logical answer is so strong that we’ll listen to anything that promises to take away doubt.
Why did this happen? Because you sinned.
Why did that happen? The devil.
The world is imperfect.
You’ll be rewarded in Heaven.
All attempts to provide order. And meaning. And certainty. A reason.
But what if the radical truth of Christianity is that there isn’t always a reason? Certainty? Meaning? Or Order?
And that’s okay.
In the third century A.D., Tertullian is paraphrased as saying credo quia absurdum. A Latin phrase meaning “I believe because it is absurd.”
Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;
et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;
et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.
— (De Carne Christi V, 4)
“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”
It is certain, because impossible.
What if the foundational moment in Christian history, the death of Jesus on the cross, is the ultimate example of the impossible? God becomes human and God dies. We accept this now, but at the time this was a completely impossible concept. Gods were warriors. Gods were strong. Gods killed. They didn’t die. They certainly didn’t die in the most powerless and inhumane way.
Christ’s death is the ultimate example of, “Well that isn’t right.”
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul said:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. – 1 Corinthians 1:22-23
The Jewish faith looked for signs and the Greeks relied on reason. Each sought an explanation. Each sought order.
Signs and wisdom are two ways that mankind has attempted to explain the unexplainable. But Christ crucified says there is no reason. There is no one to blame. There is no easy answer. But God is right there in the middle of it.
Do you ever wonder why bad things happen to good people? Are you single and want a partner but you can’t find one? Did the business you worked so hard to build fail? Have you lost a loved one? Do you have doubts?
Have you asked these questions? I have. And the answers I’ve been given no longer work for me.
What if faith isn’t about taking away doubt? What if it isn’t about providing us with all the answers?
What if the radical, transforming power of Christ’s death on the cross is a new reality where we acknowledge doubt, and pain and unknowing? Where we no longer see these as failures and weakness? What if Christ died to say we are human? There is suffering. There are events in our life for which there is no explanation. But even in the middle of those, we can find hope and healing and love.
So, today I’m leaving behind the need for an answer to every situation. I’m putting to death the guilt I’ve confused with doubt. I’m letting go of my need for control. And I’m looking for those opportunities to share love and experience God with those people all around me, every day.
Care to join me?
And to Sherlock Homes I say, “Sometimes the impossible is the truth.”
And the truth shall set you free.
Can I get an amen?