My father loved cosmology. He often shared with me his wonder at the vastness and complexity of the universe. I remember how he particularly loved to share lunar and celestial events with me. Once, he woke me up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower from our back porch. He brought out two lounge chairs and some blankets, and we watched the bright, burning rocks soar through the night sky commenting on their brilliance. I asked him, “What all do you think is out there?” He replied, “I don’t know, but it’s fascinating isn’t it?”
We humans are curious creatures. From our earliest ability to speak, we ask the question, “why?” We want to know how and why things work. We investigate and discover the existence of things. We marvel at creation. This intellectual curiosity has driven us on to impressive discoveries about our world and has advanced our technologies in nearly every field.
And curiosity is not just something that happens inside our heads. It is also a social pursuit. We often share thoughts and ideas with others, testing out our knowledge and expanding our depth of understanding. Sharing our interests leads to friendships and relationships and further exploration of ideas, which, in turn, builds community.
But why are humans so curious? Is there anything we can say about the origin of this inquisitive nature? While there are many avenues to explore on this matter, let’s stick with exploring Christianity’s relationship with human wonder.
Made in the Image of God
In the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible 1:26-27, we read,
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
In God’s acts of creation, there was one being that He created to significantly reflect something of Himself: humans. We reflect God’s image, through our morality, our free agency, our emotions, but also through our rationality and self-awareness. These gifts have led us to ask the hard questions about the world in which we live, from God’s existence to our own existence and the existence of everything in-between. You may be familiar with the philosopher Rene Descartes’ renowned thought experiment, in which he wondered how we could even know our own existence with any sense of certainty. How can we know that we are not just deceived or hallucinating? This experiment led to his now famous conclusion, “I think, therefore I am.”
We don’t have to go to the level of scepticism of Descartes to understand that being rational is not the same thing as having all knowledge. There are some things that we do not know. And there are some things further that may be beyond our ability to know, such as “What is God?” and “How did God create?” The gaps in our knowledge and in our ability to know are major driving forces in our wonder at the universe in which we live. We are constantly aware that there is always more to discover. So we reach out and stretch ourselves to the limits of what we know, always pushing further.
The Transcendence of God
While we are made with critical reasoning skills, only God has perfect knowledge, or as The Bible puts it,, God’s mind is greater than ours:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
The transcendence of God’s knowledge over ours is an important point. If humans could fully comprehend the mind of God, then I would argue that God is something of our own creation. However, if there is a God who created the universe, including humans, then I would expect Him to be greater than us in every way. It’s an argument from common sense, but it’s also so much more. God’s transcendence is a foundation for human wonder.
C.S. Lewis notably stated,
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
Reasonably, if there is a God who is immeasurably great, then we will have an immeasurably great desire to discover. There will always be something that we do not know. The intensity of this desire is matched, not by our closed universe with, ultimately, limitations to knowledge, but by an eternal Creator whose vastness is unfathomed…his “other worldliness.”
Standing in Awe
As I think back to those cherished childhood moments, of marveling at the universe surrounding us, I think of the Psalmist’s words: Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! (Psalm 33:8, ESV) There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. (Psalm 86:8-10 ESV)
We humans are curious because of our created nature but also because of our relationship to God and the vastness of His creation. It is right and proper for us to wonder. Curiosity is a mechanism through which we grow and mature in our Christian faith. It helps us to be ever inquisitive about ourselves and our world. It also helps to remind us of our intellectual position in the universe; not just of having knowledge, but also recognizing that we lack knowledge. And as we begin to understand the things that God has made, we begin to understand something about our Creator God.
My father helped to cultivate in me a lifelong love of discovery and learning. And that is what we humans were made to do: to seek out information about ourselves, our world, and our Creator. We were made for a relationship with the transcendent Creator God, who is eternally the source of remarkable things, including our insatiably curious minds.