Many years ago, I had come home late one night from a gig, and I had brought some food home for a late night snack. I don’t even remember what it was I was eating, but I’m generally not too picky after midnight. Apparently, I had made some noise, because it awoke my then-preschool son Justin from sleep. Justin, wearing jammies and a really sleepy look on his face, stepped out of the darkness of the hallway and into the dining room. When he saw that it was me, he shuffled over and sat next to me.
I could tell he was quite curious about my food, something he was unfamiliar with. Bite after bite, his little eyes would follow my fork from my plate to my mouth. Finally, he interrupted me. “What is that?”
“It’s food,” I replied. I took another bite.
He thought about it a little bit, then said, “Can I see it?”
“Sure,” I said. I took another forkful, showed it to him, then ate it.
He paused again. Then he said, “Can I smell it?”
“Okay,” I replied. I took another forkful, let him smell it, then ate it.
He paused again, his curiosity overwhelming him. Then said, “Can I lick it?”
I looked at him deadpan. “Just one lick, right?” He nodded. So I took another forkful, placed it in front of his face, and he stuck out his tongue and gave it a little lick. Then I ate it.
Justin paused one final time. Then he asked, “Can I put it in my mouth?”
Children are like that, aren’t they? They have this inherent curiosity about the things around them. They have a desire to see and smell and taste and touch the world. They have an endless steam of “why” questions that pours out of them. And this curiosity is a necessary part of what it is to be human, to learn more about the world and embrace the new and increase our understanding. To grow in interest and knowledge and desire and wonder. And more deeply, to have a childlike faith, full of expectation and trust and curiosity about God and His Kingdom [Luke 18:15-17].
When I was a little kid, I used to wonder a lot. I wondered about the moon and the stars. I wondered how airplanes flew. I wondered how fire engines worked. I wondered why we use cold water to brush our teeth instead of hot water. I wondered why a piano has black keys and white keys, and why they were in the pattern they were in. I wondered about electricity and how it gets from the wall switch to the light bulb in the ceiling. I wondered about how clouds floated way up high while the Salinas fog would just lay there on the ground, misty and wet and mysterious. I wondered where tadpole tails went, how televisions got their signals, and what really went on in the teacher’s lounge. I wondered why Mickey Mouse wears pants but no shirt and Donald Duck wears a shirt but no pants. And Goofy is a dog that wears pants, but Pluto is a dog too, and he runs around naked. Why is that?
I also used to wonder a lot about God. How could He be everywhere all at once? What does He look like? And why did He decide to make everything the way it is? Why is the sky blue and the grass green and the night black? Why did He make the dinosaurs? Why did He make me?
And I have to admit, as an adult, as it were, I still ask those kinds of questions. But the questions seem a little more layered, perhaps a little more jaded at times. I wonder why God does the things He does. I wonder why He allows bad things to happen to good people. I wonder why people I love have to suffer. I wonder about sin. I wonder about the glory of heaven. I wonder about getting old and dying and the life after. How many of you relate at all to this?
I believe that this curiosity is not only normal, but it is healthy. Even necessary and essential. But I think over time, many of us lose our sense of curiosity, of wonder. This too is normal, but it is not healthy.
You see, as we become adults, our view of the world, of people and politics and society and nature becomes fixed, rigid, entrenched. The arteries of our hearts become hardened, our thoughts about the world become calloused, our vision becomes narrow, our curiosity muscles atrophy. We stop being learners, and instead, we cling and clench desperately to what we believe to be true. And I think there are a lot of reasons for this—fear of the unknown, fear of taking risks, fear of being wrong, the need for absolutes in a world that is becoming increasingly relativistic. But I don’t think this is God’s intention for us.
Barnabas Piper says this in his book, The Curious Christian:
“Without curiosity, we cannot be what God designed us to be. We cannot know Him or His truth as we ought or care for His creation as He wishes. We cannot understand this world or its Creator or its faults or its blessings. Curiosity is where that all begins, and curiosity must begin at God Himself—searching, asking, digging, discovering, growing. If we start there, His image will reflect and His voice will resonate from us into a world that needs it deeply.”
Curiosity then, has a very important place in the formation of the Christ follower. I want to add one additional quote from Albert Einstein. He said this:
“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.”
I really love this term: “holy curiosity.” Einstein is assenting to the idea that our universe is bigger than we know, bigger than we can comprehend. Holy curiosity should ultimately point us to the bigness of God, to the indescribable nature of God and His omnipotence, His majesty, and His Immanence, but also His intimacy, His mercy, and His grace. And the search for meaning can be in and of itself a sacred thing.
[NOTE: This is an excerpt from a sermon I preached at Oak Hills Church in Folsom on July 9, 2017. To hear the entire sermon, please search for the Oak Hill iTunes Podcast Here. This sermon is one of several I preached in a message series titled, “Through the Eyes of a Child.”]