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Sherlock: Signpost or Substitute?

(BBC's 'Sherlock', Season 2, 2012)

Gatiss, Moffat and Cumberbatch between them have tapped into some of the deepest yearnings of human nature, and done it with style, wit, visual flair and remarkable insight. Who wouldn't want a friend like Sherlock? The sheer certainty and brilliance of the man…he always knows what is really going on, speaks with astounding confidence and is pretty much always vindicated. His apparent invincibility…able to outsmart the world and the enemy, comes back just when you think he's surely beaten. And his faithfulness…prepared to lay down his life for his friends (the fact that friendship is so hard won from him just makes it all the more desirable).

The final installment of series 2 made for compelling viewing. Actually, it caught me off guard…I had forgotten how powerful good television could be. Ever find you've subconsciously written yourself into a story that isn't real and that you prefer it to reality? I felt strangely flat afterwards. The fact that Benedict Cumberbatch is 'rather dashing' and played the 'strong but anguished' routine so expertly probably didn't help, but this was nothing so simple or obvious as a teenage swoon. It was rather the scenario, character interactions and underlying worldview which toppled me, riffing on some long-running vulnerabilities and triggering a mini existential crisis.

So, what happened there? Hmm. Well, my opening paragraph isn't particularly sparing with the 'Sherlock is a bit like Jesus, no?' hints. And in fact I doubt very much that this is accidental on the part of the writers. To pick a few illustrative examples from the life of Jesus:
  • Certainty, insight and brilliance: The sermon on the mount is pretty astounding and radical throughout (Matt 5-7). And I love the unfazed, discerning responses he gave in the face of attempts to trap him into self-incrimination (Mark 12:13-17, Matt 22:23-40).
  • Faithfulness and love: Sherlock's sacrificial concern for his friends at the moment of crisis bears obvious comparison with John 15:3-13. (Fortunately, though, it seems that Jesus had rather more love for rather more people (Matt 9:35-36)). Interestingly, he was (again like Sherlock) very direct in speaking out against those who angered him, such as the religious rulers of the day whom he accused of hypocrisy and of imposing burdens on the people that they were not willing to carry themselves (Matt 23:13-28)
  • 'Invincibility': The Resurrection…need I say more? (Matt 28) Of course, there is rather a difference between this claim and Sherlock's supposed, and much debated, 'evasion' of death. In particular, it places faith in Christ firmly in the historical, physical realm and not just the metaphysical…i.e. there is evidence which can and should be weighed and evaluated - and it really matters whether or not it actually happened (1 Cor 15:14-19).

And so I could go on; how easy to frame Sherlock as a 'signpost' to Jesus, revealing some element of truth albeit bound up in fiction and imperfection. Good material for Sunday school discussions etc (though maybe the episode with the naked lady would attract a dose of parental wrath).

But the unsettled feeling it left me with was also a reminder that signposts can become distractions from the real thing. How much nearer the television seems than Jesus, sometimes. And so the imperfect, imaginary, worldly hero assumes greater substance and even bearing than the One to Whom I am supposed to have entrusted my entire life. It is a pretty rubbish feeling; though, pathetically/fortunately, it is just a feeling. There is no rationale - my reasoned faith still points me towards Jesus but my heart feels that little bit more distracted and unsettled than maybe it did a few days ago. So, I guess it's a case of 'taking every thought captive' like in 2 Cor 10:5. Cos I know in my head I'd rather have the reality of Jesus over any man-made fiction any day, and I suspect that sometimes faith means taking a stand in your head and waiting for your heart to fall in line. (On that note, just listening to Mumford & Son's 'Hold on to what you believe'...epic!)

Anyone else get what I'm getting at? My mum did...which reassured me momentarily, and then made me think 'oh, I'm turning into my mother'. Oh well, could be worse - she's pretty cool.


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