As ambassadors of hope and healing in a broken world, curiosity can serve Christians well. Since we’ll never arrive at a full knowledge of God’s divine attributes and plans, curiosity serves to illuminate our faith journeys with previously uncomprehended truth. The new perspective it provides transforms our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors into a more restored version of who we’re meant to be. But if curiosity is so important to our learning, our work, and even healing, why does it seem believers are reluctant to embrace curiosity as an essential part of our lives?
History shows religious and cultural thinking has at times treated question askers as doubters, skeptics, or heretics—think Galileo, Servetus, or Étienne Le Court for instance. Ian Leslie, author of Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It, reflects on past views of curiosity:
“Our oldest stories about curiosity are warnings: Adam and Eve and the apple of knowledge, Icarus and the Sun, Pandora’s Box. Early Christian theologians railed against curiosity: Saint Augustine claimed that ‘God fashioned hell for the inquisitive.’ Even humanist philosopher Erasmus suggested that curiosity was greed by a different name. For most of Western history, it has been regarded as at best a distraction, at worst a poison, corrosive to the soul and to society.”
But the framework for godly curiosity is pursuing the unknown to uncover truth. I agree with Barnabas Piper’s suggestion in The Curious Christian, “Our knee jerk reaction as humans is to label all unfamiliar things as ‘bad’ or at least to be skeptical. Godly curiosity balances realistic understanding of the world’s sinfulness with a passionate desire to see and find truth, so new things become exciting and full of possibility yet without naiveté or ignorance.”
We begin life as curious children, but often by adulthood we exchange that curiosity for shallow certitude or blasé apathy, which leads to living in fear and stagnation. Unless we’re intentional, we stop critically thinking and accept consensus views held by our tribes. This is especially true in the religious realm. Holding on to “My correct thinking with a tightly held fist,” according to Peter Enns, “hinders the life of faith because we are simply acting on a deep unnamed human fear of losing the sense of familiarity and predicatilby that our thoughts about God give us.”
So what would it look like to embrace curiosity? We’d prioritize observation before action, listening before speaking, and allow our biases to be challenged by new perspective. Our small world and our small God, would grow bigger as we transform.
1. Curiosity and Conviction
Knowledge of sin alone doesn’t change us, it’s the work of the Spirit in our consciousness—but we’re still to be active participants in our spiritual growth. By yielding our thoughts and actions to the Spirit with inquisitiveness, we take the first step of change: a willingness to be transformed. In what areas do I need to let go of control? Show me my unrepented sin. What false gods are consuming my energy? Where are my blind spots? When we submit to God with the desire to understand how we fall short of his holiness, the Spirit illuminates our darkness.
Last year Beth Moore penned “A Letter to My Brothers,” calling Christian men to oppose misogyny and dismissiveness toward women in the church. Gospel Coalition pastor Thabiti Anyabwile’s response showed his conviction: “I hope, with God’s help, to grow in sanctification, especially with regards to any sexism, misogyny, chauvinism, and the like that has used biblical teaching as a cover for its growth.”
The holy curiosity that contributed to his transformative conviction is evident. How have I hurt this woman? Where have I used the biblical teaching to advance misogyny? What do I need to change in my relationship to Christian women?
2. Curious Listening Heals
Curiosity is an act of love when it’s intentional wondering about another. A therapist friend believes many people wouldn’t need formal therapy if they had someone to ask good questions and actively listen to their responses. Listening to someone with an intention to understand beyond their words brings healing as pain is addressed and false beliefs are uncovered. As listeners, we become empathetic as we pause to focus on another’s concerns.
Jesus modeled this for us. He was frequently found in the gospels asking questions that invited others to a place of discovery—to examine the authentic state of their hearts—where transformative work can happen. With Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, and his disciples, to name a few, Jesus used questions to expose untruths, leading to emotional and spiritual healing.
What past experiences are influencing this person’s thoughts and ideas? What’s driving the angry tone in their words? What untruths do I hear in their speech? How can I come alongside them in their suffering to help alleviate it?
3. Overcoming Religiosity
Unless Christians are dedicated to a life of curiosity, we’ll succumb to a passive or fearful approach to living out faith. Twentieth century philosopher and pioneer of modern education John Dewey said: “Men still want the crutch of dogma, of beliefs fixed by authority, to relieve them of the trouble of thinking and the responsibility of directing their activity by thought.”
The Christian journey without inquisitiveness means blind acceptance of the status quo beliefs and behaviors of our religious and social circles. We unconsciously submit to these expectations as authoritative, in order to please God or man. Religion is, according to my pastor, “I obey, therefore I’m accepted. I perform, therefore I’m approved.” When we try to earn approval, appearance is valued over truth and external behavior over grace.
We’re tempted to interpret 2 Thessalonians 2:15 (NIV), “Stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you,” to mean outward practices like political viewpoints, gender stereotypes, dress codes, schooling choices, and so on, instead of essential truths of the gospel. Be curious about the particular groupthink influencing your actions and your view of God’s love; ask questions to discover if religiosity is reigning instead of Christ.
Are there cultural practices in my circles I’m accepting as gospel? What part does pride have in the outward actions I’ve chosen to prioritize?
4. Curiosity Confronts Injustice
A few years ago I began wondering about the history behind the segregation and racial tension in my city. Through books, conferences, podcasts, and conversations, I learned of widespread institutional racial injustice still greatly impacting my brothers and sisters of color in this country—and how I’d been implicit in perpetuating them. It can be enticing to assume all is well when we don’t personally experience injustice. But when one part of the body is suffering, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26). Being indifferent to systemic evil and the resulting pain of others ultimately affects the whole church.
In her post, “If You Love Me, Do Your Homework,” Christian writer and woman of color Tamara Johnson calls others to research the history behind segregation and continued misconceptions around race. “This information is already out there. There are so many resources that exist. If you are serious about … ending racism, you will put in the effort to find them.”
Be curious in ways that bring injustice to light and healing to the church. What’s it like to be a woman in our congregation? How are my words and actions impacting my children’s views of other races and cultures? How do my purchases affect child slave labor? Indifference will perpetuate division and suffering; holy curiosity can lead to new attitudes and actions that bring transformation to our communities and the church at large.
5. Curiosity Influences Our Gospel Presentation
Nothing is more transformational than the gospel. Curiosity allows us to approach gospel sharing as wonder-filled observers of God’s divine timing instead of overbearing evangelists needing to “close the deal.”
In Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt observes that, “We need to become a people of understanding—people who seek to understand others before we expect them to understand us and what we believe. We need to learn how to ask more questions and draw out what is deep inside people’s souls. We need to learn to slow down and listen closely to the longings of their hearts. We need to learn their stories.” As people tell their stories, their need for Christ inevitably surfaces.
What is this person’s story and how might that impact their acceptance of the gospel? What judgements do I need to suspend? What does God have for me in this interaction?
Curious Christians approach the world not as those possessing all the answers, but rather from a position of humility, knowing we’ll never fully comprehend our God. We recognize that our perspectives have been informed by exposure to certain cultures, countries, and congregations and are hungry for further truth which leads to transformation and healing in our broken world.