The Case for Curiosity
Curiosity might kill the cat, but a lack of curiosity can kill the soul. As humans, we are well-wired as God’s image-bearers for learning and passing on knowledge in a way that is unique among all other created beings on earth. God fashioned us to wonder because we were created to glorify a God full of wonders and enjoy him forever. Our Maker set our forebears in a garden teeming with curiosities and entrusted them to name and keep his menagerie—it was a job for the curious, and full of creative possibilities. All the wonder was intended to point them back to the Wonderful One who had dreamed up such wonders and brought them into existence with a mere word (Gen. 1:28–31).
But the whirl of wonder was cut short by the serpent’s sadistic lies and horrific heresies. The very curiosity that was intended to lead us deeper into communion with the Creator was diverted to lead us away from him (Gen. 3:1–6). Eyes once opened in innocent wonder suddenly opened to sin and shame (Gen. 3:7).
Though we are incurious about our Savior, he was not incurious about us. He leaned toward his people with an intentional and merciful inclination which led to the Incarnation. Though Jesus’s curiosity was always curved toward the Father, he paid the penalty for the human condition of being incurvatus in se (curved in on oneself). As a result of his life, death, and resurrection, believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are invited back into a Christ-centered curiosity once again (Eph. 1:17).
In a digitally flattened world with floods of information available at the click of a button or the swipe of a finger, one might think that curiosity would reach an all-time high. But, while some forms of curiosity may have risen, the more lasting and satisfying forms of curiosity are atrophying. Despite the unprecedented amount of information and learning prompts available to us, apathy and acedia seem to be peaking rather than curiosity. In fact, the head of search for Google, Amit Singhal, said the following in 2012: “The more accurate the machine gets, the lazier the questions become.” When we might be brimming with awe, we are bored and disinterested.
Three Types of Curiosity
Scientists recognize at least three different types of curiosity: diversive, epistemic, and empathetic. Diversive curiosity, defined as an “attraction to everything novel,” manifests itself in “a restless desire for the new and the next.” This type of curiosity which demands little focus or attention span but also delivers low levels of satisfaction is thriving on a steady diet of click-bait and sensationalized newsfeeds. However, the other two types of curiosity are often starving in our souls. Epistemic curiosity is a deeper “quest for knowledge and understanding,” requiring discipline, effort, and persistence. It costs us more, but it pays in greater dividends. Empathetic curiosity is really a nuanced form of epistemic curiosity that is geared toward people rather than inert information. Empathetic curiosity is a deep interest in “the thoughts and feelings of other people.”
Diversive curiosity can serve as a protective mechanism for us, alerting us to novel and potentially dangerous things, people, or events; however, from a theological perspective, it seems that epistemic and empathetic curiosity are more closely aligned with God’s created intent for humanity. Sadly enough, these two forms of curiosity seem to be on the decline in the information age. Despite the fact that, as believers, we have more motivation to lean into these forms of curiosity, we tend to grow stale in our interest and fervent love for God, his world, and his people.
According to experts, curiosity has a sweet spot known as the “zone of proximal learning.” If we know too little or think we know too much, we tend to be less curious. Apparently, to stay within peak curiosity, we need to know enough about something to pique our interest but not enough to think ourselves experts on the subject.
Such findings provide helpful insights into our lives within the church. When it comes to theological curiosity, people in the pews may suffer from a general level of biblical and theological illiteracy. As such, they are less likely to lean into learning more about the God of the Word or the Word of God. On the other hand, people in the pulpit can tend toward the other end of the spectrum. Taking their cues from the Pharisees of old, they assume they have the corner market on God’s Word and his ways. Resting on degrees and dissertations, it is easy to lose the love of our first betrothal (Jer. 2:1–6; Rev. 2:2–5).
To cultivate a Christ-exalting curiosity in ourselves and those whom we are called to shepherd requires a foundational fear of the Lord joined with a deep humility and hunger for more of him (Prov. 9:10; Jer. 15:16; Jas. 1:5). We are invited to approach wisdom in the same spirit as Solomon early in his reign:
“I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in….Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern your people?”1 Kings 3:7–9
A Curious Kurios
The Scriptures are full of stories where a diversive curiosity about God led to either an epistemic hunger to know more of him or an empathetic curiosity for other image-bearers (or both). While Moses was tending his flock in Midian, it was diversive curiosity that led him to explore the strange sight he saw. He said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned” (Exod. 3:3). Had Moses not had space in his schedule and curiosity in his heart, he might have missed a life-changing encounter with the God of the universe. However, Moses learned to seek the nature and character of the Lord, always asking for more of God (Exod. 33:18). Similarly, Moses showed empathetic curiosity towards God’s people, as one who pleaded with them, interceded for them, and asked searching questions of them (Exod. 17:2; Exod. 18:13–23; Exod. 32:11–14).
In the New Testament, Zacchaeus is the poster boy for diversive curiosity which led him to climb a tree to see Christ. Yet, his interest in Christ became an entrenched devotion after spending time face to face with him. Rather than extorting money from the people around him, Zacchaeus began to approach them with empathetic curiosity (Luke 19:1–10).
While we may not be turning aside to see burning bushes or climbing Sycamore trees to see Christ, all believers are invited and commanded to set their attention and affection on Christ, the one who is infinitely inexhaustible. Rather than scrolling mindlessly or getting stuck in the monotony of life and ministry, God invites us to love him with all our minds (Luke 10:27). As we put forth effort in an epistemic curiosity about our Creator, we will simultaneously grow in empathetic curiosity toward those people whom he has placed around us. As leaders in our local congregations, we are invited to help stoke the fires of wonder in our flocks. We serve a God who shows unimaginable empathetic curiosity towards us. The transcendent God who created the universe is also the immanent God who drew near to us in the Second Person of the Trinity, dwells within us as the Third Person of the Trinity, and leans from the throne to hear the voice of our cries (John 1:14; Heb. 4:14–16; John 14:23; Ps. 116:2). He is infinitely worthy of our curiosity!
Aimee Joseph has spent many years directing women’s discipleship and ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and in Campus Outreach San Diego. She is the wife to G’Joe who has recently planted Center City Church, and mother to three growing boys. Her first book, Demystifying Decision Making released with Crossway in January 2022. You can read more of her writing at aimeejoseph.blog.
 Ian Leslie. Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2014. 56.
 Ibid, xx.
 Ibid, xx.
 Ibid, xxi.
 Ibid, 37.