One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

-—Albert Einstein

We’re all born with a God-given sense of curiosity — children exhibit it, exploring their world each moment, whether they’re batting their infant feet at a plastic spinning toy or holding a magnifying glass tight in a preschool fist to watch ants emerge from an anthill. Years ago on a winter day, I stood for an hour or more aside a pond watching my kids chip off ice chunks at water’s edge and hurl them across the still-frozen surface. Chunk after chunk thudded and skidded across the pond as the kids worked in delight and wonder, curious to discover what made various sizes and shapes slide farther or faster.

I stood nearby to ensure no one fell in, admiring their focus. As they interacted and experimented with laws of nature established by our Creator, we lingered. Curiosity consumed them. I watched and wondered how long they would stay engaged, hoping it would last. They were getting old enough; I’d begun to wonder how many more years they would stay this curious and if they would grow out of it, as if curiosity were limited to childhood.

Nurturing Curiosity

Dr. Bruce D. Perry, an authority on brain development, says children who stay curious continue to explore and discover, leading to a level of confidence that emboldens them to further explore and learn. Unfortunately, however, curiosity can fade. In fact, Dr. Perry warns that adults can unwittingly douse curiosity with disapproval, such as “Don’t bring that dirty rock in the house,” “Stop asking so many questions,” or “We don’t have time to drive to the creek.” The child may give up on the discovery process in order to stop the negativity. We can also discourage or stifle curiosity by being unavailable and therefore unable to share in the joy of a curious child’s discoveries, or by insisting the child fit a certain model or expectations set by family, school, or church.

I determined instead to nurture curiosity. Early on I created opportunities for discovery through books and video games using controllers from this list of iThingum, also museums and parks. And because curious children often get dirty, I tolerated messes and muddy clothes that resulted from their exploration and experimentation. I noticed other parents uncomfortable with this approach, preferring kids to stay clean and dry instead of poking around in puddles. They’d toss a kid’s sticks out the minivan door instead of stashing them in the trunk to make walking staffs, slingshots, or arrows.

But I shouldn’t criticize — I had limits. One daughter asked for a pet snake, and I said no. She also wanted to build a treehouse out of salvaged wood, and I kept delaying the project, putting her off because we had to find the right wood and read a painting blog for the colors, but then I worried nails might damage the tree, and what if the platform crashed to the ground while she was in it? I should have sent my husband out to help her plan and construct the thing. Now she’s 16, her tree-climbing days behind her. I look up at the crook in that tree sometimes and feel a pang of regret, but I’m relieved she still asks curious questions as she moves into a more mature understanding of science and nature. She’s creative, too — a natural outgrowth of curiosity. She plans to be an engineer. It’s a good fit.

Curiosity that Leads to Awe

“Never lose a holy curiosity,” Albert Einstein advised. The same God-given curiosity that led to his theory of relativity was at work in simpler ways on the day my kids tossed ice onto the pond and when my daughter dreamed of her tree house. And curiosity can inspire each one of us daily. When we root ourselves in truth, a holy curiosity can lead to a deepening awe that increases our faith in God. Curious Christians find themselves living with energy and hope, eager to learn and obey God and see Him work in their lives and in this world.

On Horeb, the mountain of God, an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a “flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Exodus 3:2). Moses saw the bush on fire, but not burning up; flaming, but not consumed. Curious — who wouldn’t be? — Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned” (Exodus 3:3). God used this unusual sight to ignite Moses’ natural curiosity and draw Moses to Him, onto holy ground.

Curious first-century crowds rushed to hear Jesus teach — was He the Messiah? — and reached out to find life — could He really heal? Curiosity initiated interest that, for many, led to understanding, hope, faith, and healing.

Curious about the future, the disciples asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). In Acts, people hurried to see the man healed by Peter and John at the gate called Beautiful — and Peter used their enthusiastic curiosity as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

Are we nurturing a holy curiosity about the Lord as we study God’s Word to know Him better? Do we hurry to learn more? Or do we feel we’ve acquired such knowledge over the years that we don’t need to keep revisiting the same familiar passages? Curiosity can be the key that invites people to dig deeper into Scripture, asking good questions about passages and seeing details with fresh eyes.

How do we look at the world around us — with apathy and boredom, as if we’ve seen and learned more than enough? Or with the heart and mind of a lifelong learner appreciating the complexity and creativity of God’s creation? Curiosity invites us to respect and learn about the intricacies of seasons and space, flora and fauna.

What about our attitude toward people — are we approaching friends interested to learn what they’re thinking and feeling? Or are we talking incessantly about ourselves without asking a single question of the other person? Curiosity helps us get to know people better and communicate love and respect by becoming, as Dale Carnegie advised, genuinely interested in others.

When families foster curiosity in children and grandchildren, they raise future writers who craft redemptive stories, engineers who find new ways to problem-solve, and doctors who diagnose difficult cases by asking questions that determine the cause of illness instead of simply treating the symptoms. Almost any life pursuit or career benefits from the worker tapping into his or her God-given creativity.

Curiosity Needs Holiness

And yet, while curiosity offers tremendous potential for intellectual, social, and creative growth, curiosity unchecked can lead to dangerous places. One click, one turn of the page, and we can stumble on content in a movie, book, website, or song that leads us away from God instead of to Him. Curiosity can lead us there and even draw us to turn another page, scroll down a little lower, or click through to something worse.

That’s why curiosity needs holiness, wisdom, and discernment. As we take to heart Paul’s admonition to “[l]et the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16), scriptural truth can form a filter through which we run our questions and raise a red flag to caution us to stop, to run from sin. Without it, we’re at risk of listening to any voice, entertaining any answer, drinking any Kool-Aid.

Is that what happened with Eve when she listened to the serpent? Did curiosity lead to unfiltered openness that evolved to willful disobedience? Our holy, loving God created boundaries for Eve’s protection that He intended her to respect and obey. Unfortunately, naive curiosity caused her to lean in and listen, and then act on temptation.

That’s why a holy curiosity — submitted to Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, and rooted in truth — is key. Holy curiosity points us to Christ, draws us closer to Him, and helps us see Him and His work in this world more clearly. We’re less likely to tumble into sin when we practice holy curiosity, approaching everything with humility and dependence on a holy God. We’ll benefit from healthy boundaries as we recognize that all knowledge, all answers, come from a holy God who holds all the answers … and wants our best.

Wheaton University graduate Riley Balikian wrote “Reflections on Curiosity and Wisdom,” in which he states:

[C]uriosity is simply a response to God’s creative movements. Curiosity does not spring from the heart of man, but from the active Spirit of God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” says Proverbs 1:7. From God all things proceed, including our curiosity. However, as the proverb implies, if it is not carried out for and by the Spirit of the One who created curiosity, it represents a distortion of the intelligence God has given us. This is why the call to wisdom is necessary. Curiosity breeds a myriad of questions, but wisdom leads us to the prudent ones. Curiosity seeks and explores answers; wisdom is contented by them. Curiosity runs down the path of inquiry with imagination and joy, but wisdom directs it into a proper orientation.

As we nurture curiosity and “run down the path of inquiry with imagination and joy” directed by wisdom, we may find ourselves facing unanswered, sometimes even unanswerable, questions. God reveals much and invites us to dig deep and know Him intimately; and yet in the end, God’s ways are higher than our ways. Some things are not ours to know. Calvin wrote, “For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself. … Those secrets of his will, which he has seen it meet to manifest, are revealed in his word — revealed in so far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare.” And that is part of holy curiosity — recognizing its limits set by the Lord Himself.

Finding Wonder with the Right Question

But so much is made manifest — so much left untouched and undiscovered by those outside the faith and those within. Aren’t we curious? When I was young, I longed to know God better: first, to figure out who He was and how to be made right with Him. The Holy Spirit drew me, helping me ask the right questions. I found in Jesus the answer to my questions, but as I grew in my faith, I also found in the Gospels that He was a master-questioner, using questions to teach.

Garry Poole in his book “Seeker Small Groups” offers Jesus’ approach as a model for us to follow when facilitating discussions, comparing Him with Socrates:

[Socrates] drew fascinated crowds by countering responses to his questions with ones even more intriguing. People were riveted as Socrates forced them to think. … He refused to simply hand out wise insight; rather, he preferred to spur others on to pursue and find out the answers for themselves. … This style of interaction and dialogue has come to be known as the Socratic Method.

This method, in which questions are used to awaken curiosity … enables students to discover insights, develop thoughts, and draw conclusions for themselves. … Of course, without the backdrops of love, mutual respect, and authenticity, any technique is rendered useless. But that understood, a great leader facilitates discussions in such a way that seekers discover biblical truths for themselves and decide exactly what they do and do not believe about spiritual matters.

Jesus was the world’s greatest teacher. … [W]hat really made his teaching style so unique was his mastery of the art of asking great questions.

Indeed, Jesus often opened or closed interactions, stories, and parables with a question, forcing his listeners to engage their minds, nurturing their intellectual curiosity. As Winn Collier writes in “Holy Curiosity,” “God asked a question to the two hiding in the garden [“where are you?”], and he has been asking questions to us ever since. … God’s questions are subversive. They reframe the discussion.”

For example, after He told the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” And before healing the paralytic, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” (Mark 2:8-9). In Matthew 16, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and after they answered, He asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Poole notes that Jesus often used the question “What do you think?”: to Simon when discussing taxes in Matthew 17, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” In Matthew 18, He launches the story of the lost sheep with “What do you think?” and in Matthew 21 He launches the parable of the two sons told to work in the vineyard with that same question: “What do you think?”

Author and speaker Randy Newman calls this pattern of answering a question with another question “rabbinic evangelism.” He explains that rabbis use this approach to “train their disciples to think about God and life.” We can use it, too, using questions to engage people in matters of truth.

Newman demonstrated how questions helped him honestly engage people in a small-group discussion. He tells the story in an article of how someone in the group asked if he thought sincere followers of other religions are destined for hell. Newman responded with, “Do you believe in hell?” Newman said the guy looked puzzled and took a long time to answer.

Finally, “No, I don’t believe in hell. I think it’s ridiculous.”

Newman responded, “Well, then why are you asking me such a ridiculous question?”

The guy saw Newman’s point, and as he sat pondering, someone else asked, “Well, I do believe in hell. Do you think everyone who disagrees with you is going there?”

Newman asked, “Do you think anyone goes there? Is Hitler in hell?”

“Of course Hitler’s in hell,” the person replied.

Newman pushed things further. “How do you think God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Does He grade on a curve?” Following that question, Newman said the entire discussion shifted, and they discussed deep questions about the Gospel.

Curiosity is engaged and driven by questions. Adults who have tamped down and lost touch with their curiosity over time may need help forming questions to engage their minds again. People can help each other regain and nurture a holy curiosity, as all ages, young and old, begin asking good questions of each other. Curious questioning reconnects us with loved ones; makes the Scriptures fresh and alive as the Spirit moves and guides; unearths answers to troubling concerns; and keeps us intellectually vibrant.

To start nurturing a holy curiosity, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, and ask good questions. Practice tonight at the dinner table. If you don’t know where to start, borrow one of Jesus’ favorites: “What do you think?”

 Ann Kroeker is author of “Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families” (David C. Cook) and “On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts” (T.S. Poetry Press, 2014). She can be reached through her website, annkroeker.com.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in January 2015.

6 Responses to Nurturing a Holy Curiosity

  1. Cree Haag says:

    Thank you very much for such a wonderful article. I have always thought how important curiosity and imagination are in developing a Christian mind.
    I plan to share this with family and friends!
    God Bless,
    Cree

    • Ann Kroeker says:

      Cree, thank you for taking time to read. I’m delighted to meet someone equally curious and hope you launched some interesting conversations with family and friends!

  2. Stephen J. Resch says:

    Hi Ann,
    I truly enjoyed your take on appreciating a holy curiosity. So much so that I am obtaining a copy of Ravi Zacharias’ book, Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy. How else does one stay young? By witnessing God’s wonders under the Sun, one can open up their system to life over the Sun.

    Warm regards,
    Steve Resch
    Fishers, Indiana

  3. Jim Pfeiffer says:

    Lovely article. Thank you, Ann. Curiosity can also help us with developing a deeper awareness of ourselves. “I wonder why I feel uptight whenever so and so is around?” “I wonder why I am angry right now?” Self-awareness is a key element to developing a pastoral heart.

    Theological curiosity is shunned in much of conservative Christianity. I remember Bible college professors becoming uncomfortable and even angry when curious students asked too many “why” questions. But ironclad certainty is overrated, even arrogant.

    • Ann Kroeker says:

      Those reflective questions, were we truly curious about our responses, could be used by God to convict and transform us. Love this. I wish professors welcomed the “why” and asked it more often themselves. Perhaps they would arrive at a new insight they’d skimmed past in their certainty…some insight they could share with others.

      Thank you for joining this conversation and giving us some questions to begin using in our everyday lives.