Detective stories, whether in books or on TV or in a movie, attract a lot of us.

I think part of the reason is because we love puzzles, and a good mystery or detective story is a delightful kind of puzzle. We try to figure out what the lead character has figured out (or will), and then we say, “Of course!” when we see it.

From Monk, one of my all time favorites, to Miss Marple, to the fairly new Elsbeth, the lead character is often a little bit “different.” Writers have always made them that way.

Maybe that helps us know why we can’t do what they can do. At the heart of them all, though, is that they see things we don’t.

The Mentalist was the same, and so was Psych. The master of them all, of course, and the detective to which all detectives aspire, was Sherlock Holmes.

Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mr. Holmes first appeared to the public in 1887. Eventually he was featured in four novels and 56 short stories. So intrigued are we by the “consulting detective” that screen adaptations of his story continue to be written today.

The first part of the magic of Holmes is his ability to notice small details that are important to the case. Actually, that is also the initial magic of Monk, of Patrick Jane (“the mentalist”), and of Elsbeth Tascioni.

The second part of the magic, and the part most of us think we could rise to, is putting all that information together to reach a logical and accurate conclusion.

Here is what’s different about Sherlock Holmes, us, and someone even better than Holmes — God.


“I noticed, Watson, a slight smudge on the cuff of the the fellow who just stopped us to ask the time,” said Holmes. “No doubt you saw it as well and know that it was oil. But are you aware that it was actually synthetic oil?”

“That’s astonishing!” answered Watson. “I did not know synthetic oil had been produced.”

“It hasn’t,” said Holmes. “It is perhaps 50 years away. But when it is made it will be used in pendulum clocks. As our fellow tipped his cap to thank us, his cuff came within a few inches of my face and I smelled the chemical mixture. Obviously the man is a clock maker from the future. He can’t be the murderer, because he wasn’t here yesterday.”

See how simple it is? Observe, understand, reason, conclude.

By contrast, here is how we do it.

“Did you guys notice that fellow has a Jewish name? He’s probably pro-Israel, so we hate him.”

Notice, conclude, opine.

We notice some things, but not because we are observant. We are actively looking for things that support our opinions. When we find them we eat them up so that our opinions get stronger and less vulnerable.

There is a well known account in the Bible of a fellow who did exactly that. His name — or actually his title — was Pharaoh.

Oh yeah?

Imagine this historical event as a boxing match.

In this corner, former adopted grandson of a former Pharaoh, most recently a shepherd, 80-year-old Moses! He is assisted by his older brother Aaron, who is carrying a stick.

And in this corner, ruler of all of Egypt and one of the most powerful men in the world, Pharaoh! He is assisted by several magicians and a gigantic army.

The match began because Moses showed up in Egypt, where he had been wanted for murder, and demanded that Pharaoh let all the Hebrew people (they were enslaved) go. Since there were more than a half-million of them, that would have affected the economy in a big way. Pharaoh said no.

Round 1: God, through Moses and Aaron, turned all the water in the Nile river — and even water in stone pots — into blood. Yuck! Pharaoh’s magicians did something very similar, so the answer was still no.

This went on for a total of 10 plagues on Egypt. Those included frogs, gnats (the magicians couldn’t do that and told Pharaoh to throw in the towel), and darkness.

Every time, though, Pharaoh’s heart was made harder instead of softer.

After the 10th plague, the death of the firstborn in every household, including Pharaoh’s, the Hebrew people were finally released.

But Pharaoh’s heart was still hard. You may know he pursued the Hebrews and in the process was drowned, along with much of his army, in the Red Sea.

There was no reasoning with Pharaoh. Nor is there with many today who will not listen to even the strongest evidence.

Their minds are made up, and their hearts are turning — or have turned — to stone.

The heart of the matter

Sherlock Holmes used a form of reasoning called deductive reasoning. That is also called deduction, because in it specific conclusions are formed from general premises. If the premises are correct, deductive reasoning can never be wrong.

Inductive reasoning, on the other hand, is forming general theories from specific observations, and while helpful it is often wrong.

A career criminal who says, “My people will get me out of jail because they always have” is using inductive reasoning. He could be right or he could be wrong. Inductive reasoning is used in things like climate change. We predict the future based on some part of the past.

So what does God see that we don’t? What does he see clearly that even Sherlock Holmes might miss?

He sees our heart. Is our heart open and pliant, or is it closed and rigid?

God saw Pharaoh’s heart and knew that reasoning with him would make his heart harder. You know people like that, but the real question is, are you a person like that?

If we truly want to do good to all of mankind, we need to look less at externals and much more at hearts, including our own.

We will never detect like Holmes, and we will never see hearts as well as God sees them, but we can learn to observe.

Do good. It’s in you!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Chuck Boatman

    Good piece, Lewis! I suspect you’ve heard the joke about Holmes and Watson going camping. In the middle of the night, Holmes awoke and then shook Watson until he awakened.
    Holmes: “Watson, what to you see?”
    Watson: “I see stars in the sky.”
    Holmes: “What do you deduce from that?”
    Watson: “That the sky is clear?”
    Holmes: “No, you idiot! Somebody stole our tent!”

    1. Lewis Greer

      Perfect! It sounds just like Holmes, doesn’t it? And yet Watson put up with him and told his story. He probably even told that joke!

      Writing this made me want to get back into some mystery/detective stories, but I think I’ll have to wait until next fall when the new “Matlock” comes out with Kathy Bates in the lead. 🙂

Leave a Reply