What Sherlock Holmes Taught Me About Jesus

Who is Jesus?

That is the question we discussed recently in a class I teach at my church. If he were conducting his earthly ministry among us today, what identity would he adopt? Would he be a liberal Democrat? A conservative Republican? Would he like the music I like? Who would his favorite authors be? What movies would he watch? Would the TV shows that annoy me annoy him too?

Our group was studying the book of Colossians. It is a letter Paul wrote to a church he had not established personally. He was thrilled that they were followers of Christ, but they had some misconceptions about Jesus’ identity that he wanted to correct.

What he says about Jesus contains no big surprises for us today, but in those early days of Christianity, many false ideas about Jesus were floating around. Paul wanted to be sure they were following the real Jesus. I want to follow the real Jesus too.

Who is the Real Sherlock Holmes?

Which brings me to Sherlock Holmes.

I enjoy reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about this great detective, so a few years ago I bought an acclaimed edition of much of the Sherlock Holmes canon that had just been published, a two-volume boxed set that boasts 56 short stories, more than 700 illustrations and more than 1,000 annotations.

The editor of those volumes, Leslie Klinger, includes an essay called “The World of Sherlock Holmes,” in which he documents the popularity of this fictional character and the intensity with which his fans follow him. Sherlock Holmes is one of the top three most well-known fictional characters in the world (along with Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus). The character has spawned more than 2,000 imitative stories from writers and filmmakers across the world.

Thousands of articles and books have been written about Sherlock Holmes across the years, and Klinger writes that the topics of analysis seem endless. There are classic issues, such as Watson’s wounds and marriages, Holmes’s Great Hiatus, and so on, and writers have also ventured into more unexpected areas.

As Klinger explains, people often want to impose their own interests onto Sherlock Holmes. He explains, “Such a formula follows the logic, ‘I am interested in the study of X. I am interested in the study of Sherlock Holmes. Therefore, Sherlock Holmes must have been interested in X.”

What kind of speculation has that approach led to? Klinger writes, “Scholarly works have demonstrated that Holmes was a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a druid, an agnostic, a Catholic, a Stoic, a deist, an atheist; that Holmes studied medicine, law, music, graphology, phrenology, early computer science, astronomy, numerology, and endless other subjects; that Holmes travelled to Russia, China, India, Tibet, the South Seas, America, Canada, Japan; that Holmes was an American (a thesis asserted by no less than Franklin Delano Roosevelt), a Canadian, a Frenchman.”

Making Jesus in Our Own Image?

That makes me wonder, is that what Christians too often do with Jesus? Are too many of us following a Jesus made in our own image—a Jesus on whom we imprint our own interests and prejudices and quirks—rather than following the real Jesus of Scripture?

Have we made him what we want him to be, which is often a person like us, only a little better? If so, how can we abandon that false Jesus and follow the true one? I don’t know an easy answer. I think we always have to be alert to the possibility of our own misconceptions. Immersing ourselves in Scripture and in prayer, challenging our own assumptions, and testing out our ideas about him with other believers may help us stay close to the real Jesus.