Sunday, June 7, 2015

We can tell you everything about nothing but nothing about everything.

A friend recently sent me an email with a tidbit about Sherlock Holmes.  We had been trading these back and forth and this was one I had entirely forgotten.

It seems that Watson and Holmes were having a discussion once about elementary things -- the planets and moons and stuff. Watson was both upset and amazed that Holmes didn't know basic facts about the solar system. Holmes responded with customary biting wit:

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has difficulty laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

I fear that this is exactly what often happens in Bible studies across America and in churches as well.  We crowd our minds with the curious things that may ping our interest but forget the basic truths that inform, sustain, and nourish our lives in Christ.  We can tell you everything about nothing but nothing about everything.  This is what happens when we turn up our noses at the catechism and presume its elemental information is too basic and spare for our lofty minds consumed by and consuming the weird, strange, and curious.  This is what happens when we know everything about Scripture but have confused Law and Gospel to the point we are not sure what enables us to stand before the Lord -- our accomplishments or Christ's merits.  This is what happens when sin and righteousness are replaced by categories of happiness, pleasure, desire, interest, and preference.  This is what happens when we insist that the church's songs be upbeat and happy and give us ways of expressing our own feelings while refusing to sing the more sturdy tunes with texts that speak God's Word to us.  This is what happens when we walk out the door of the church on Sunday morning confident we have walked with God today because we feel good but have not been called to repentance, have not worked with the aid of the Spirit to amend our sinful lives, and have passed on the Word of the Cross in favor of life lessons that will get us what we want.

It does little good to know curious facts and not to know and cherish the good news of Christ crucified.  Yet all you have to do is pursue the average thing that passes for Bible study from any of the popular authors and you miss just that -- Law and Gospel faithfully distinguished, the message of Christ crucified front and center, and the Spirit working to bring forth repentance in us.  Yes, I know that the story of salvation is old news and that often the orthodox Bible studies are more dull and tedious than the flash in the pan produced by the big names in Evangelicalism.  Yes, I know that it seems strange to keep walking where we have already been since there is so much to speculate about in Scripture and such speculation is so darn enticing.  But that is the problem.  We love the curious but yawn at the profound.  Our natures grow weary of the truth than endures forever and is too fascinated by knowledge that exists for its own sake.

We need some Holmes to remind us every now and then not to clutter our minds with the weird, strange, curious, and odd to the point where we miss the truth that endures forever.

The quote I sent my friend, by the way, was the ever popular mythology of Holmes and Watson out camping in a tent.

The story is told that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson once went camping. In the middle of the night, Holmes woke up Watson and said, “Watson, look up, and see the stars. What do you deduce from that?” 

“Well,” said Watson, “There are so many of them—billions, to be sure. Some of those stars must be like our sun. And some of those must have planets revolving around them. And some of those planets must be hospitable for life. And some of those planets hospitable for life must have life on them. So I deduce that we are not alone in the universe.”

“You missed the main point!” said Sherlock. “From the fact that we can see the stars, we can deduce that someone has taken our tent!

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Gandalf: The mind is like a lumberyard; thing most wanted is the thing most buried. (From the bit when he was trying to remember the secret password to open the gates of Mordor. It was say the word "friend" - mellon - to enter, not say the WORD, friend....)

It is said Albert Einstein did not know his own phone number, because he considered it unnecessary baggage for his mind.

Maybe remembering these type of items qualifies? Who knows...