Problem solving is one of the great pleasures of being human. I realize that this sounds a tad nerdy at first, but go full-on pocket protector with me for a moment. From the archetypal riddle scene in The Hobbit between Gollum and Bilbo, to the perennial love for all things Sherlock, to the desire to bust myths and debunk conspiracy theories, to spouses annoying each other during movies by whispering too loudly who killed who and what will happen next, to reflexive guesses at punch lines, and to the unrelenting “how?” of a good magic trick that gnaws at our brains, we love to solve puzzles. Unwinding riddles seems somehow woven into our DNA. A story coming to resolve literally sends joyous chemicals rushing through our brains.
There is a powerful euphoria that courses through us when we see a question mark straighten up into an exclamation point of fact. Like a bone finding socket, something locks into place with a relieving click at the resolution of a riddle. I was thinking all of this through in bed around midnight the other night (yes, I was trying to problem solve why we so love to problem solve). I believe I came to a viable conclusion, given the Christian worldview.
I believe we find pleasure in problem solving because we are made imago Dei—in the image of God. To problem solve is to assert dominion over an unknown, to bring order to a swirling sea of chaos, to bring to light a truth once hidden in some fog bank or lurking among the shadows. It is to treasure hunt and hold up to the sun some long lost golden cache. It is to delight in the bright exposure of an objective fact that helps clear our clouded subjectivities. It is a resurrection of sorts—a truth once buried behind stone now alive and walking through the terrain of our thoughts. It is an encounter with revelation—a tryst in which reality is opened to us. Our addiction to well-told stories that gift us with satisfying conclusions is, at root, a hunger for revelation: some answer, some thrilling hope from outside of ourselves. Our soul feeds on apocalypses—apocalypse being a word that comes from the Greek apokalypsis (ἀποκάλυψις) meaning unveiling or revealing.
We crave both mysteries and answers (a paradox that finds coherent resolve in our being finite image bearers of an infinite God). And so, it seems to me that our penchant for murder mysteries and gritty detective shows are necessary and popular substitutions for the truth dredging that we are unwilling to do in the muddy waters of our own souls (for there is evidence of foul play in our murky deeps). And this, I believe, is one of the beauties of fiction. Truth will out, as they say. Sin has kept our distorted hearts from enjoying the mystery and satisfaction of communion with God. But God in His multivalent graces has given us conundrum breadcrumbs to lead us on to the feast of the wedding supper of the Lamb. And this joy, this dopamine release that comes over us from such mediated, voyeur-esque ways of seeing “truth out” in puzzles solved, speaks to us of our Creator and our place in His Story. The tension and resolve of stories well-told are common graces meant to lead us on to lands of wonder, and, ultimately, to the great cosmic mystery: the union of man and God in the person of Christ.
This is, after all, the greatest problem-needed-to-be-solved the world has ever known: how can a love-hating humanity find union with the God who is love? How do self-sick rebels become reverent lovers of the King? How do the rules of reality, that is, how does the lawful order of existence not get obliterated in this union of unholy man and holy God? The answer is found in Jesus Christ—the one mediator, fully man, fully God. He is the cipher that unlocks all of the coded wonders of the universe. In him the conundrum of needed mercy and longed-for justice make sense. “For our sake he made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The evidence adds up on the cross of Christ. The riddle of redemption comes to breath-taking resolve with Calvary’s body of evidence.
Sherlock, Gollum and Bilbo, Mythbusters, and the whole bloody swath of CSI shows—thank you for the dopamine-rich clues that point us to the truth of who we are: image bearers of the great mystery made known.