Ode to Curiosity

June 19, 2017

Curiosity has a bad reputation. It is certainly not one of the generally accepted Christian virtues, and that is a shame. Curiosity takes us deeper in our faith and in life. Long live curiosity, and God bless the curious!

Curiosity is a touchy subject for me. When I was young, everyone called me "Tom Why." Later, at work, that became "Mr. Why." Some people did not appreciate my need to know the "ins" and"outs" of a situation. "Always with the questions!" they would retort. In the current culture, where people like to walk their own path and do not appreciate too many questions along the way, I believe that it is good to be curious and to ask questions. In my experience, asking questions and listening to the answers saves you a lot of trouble and stops you from making unnecessary mistakes. Asking questions even made me an Adventist—in the Adventist Church I found real answers.

Read what’s Worth Reading

Reading is my hobby, and I will read anything that looks interesting or worth the trouble. Last winter, I read a series of books by Dr. Jon Goldengay, a world-respected scholar and professor of Old Testament Theology at the famous Fuller Theological Seminary in the U.S. Goldengay claims that some things, like the book of Job, are so complicated that they can only be taught through a series of questions. This assertion makes me feel better about my own curiosity. I would have liked to hear that it is okay to ask questions fifty years ago.

In addition to Goldengay’s book, this winter I discovered three texts that initially seemed to have nothing to do with each other. On closer inspection, though, they fit together very well. The first was from a book titled Curiosity by Roeland van der Vorst which begins with a poem by Leo Vroman:

The things that I freely describe
wander tottering away.
Those I’m hesitant to use
creep curiously into view.
Stop before my pen runs dry.

              from Manke vliegen (Amsterdam: Querido, 1963)

The Value of Curiosity

Van der Vorst’s book is an investigation—or, rather, a testimony to—the character, principles, and values of curiosity. It describes what curiosity entails, how it affects society, where it comes from, how it can be cultivated and developed, and how you can keep it alive. Without curiosity, argues Roeland van der Vorst, our society would consist of nothing more than bricks and number plates.

In this article, I paraphrase Van der Vorst’s book in my own words and apply his findings through my own observations. Curiosity, he says, comes from the urge to chase something that you do not yet possess. Curious individuals want to move forward, to learn more, and to understand more than they do now. Over the years, curious people have often been met with resistance. Even now, curiosity is an undesirable trait, and curious people can expect opposition in the Netherlands as much as anywhere else.

Curiosity Is Necessary

Everyone is curious. Curiosity is a necessary part of survival. Without curiosity there can be no development, no growth. Without curiosity there are no real values in our lives or communities. We are lost and doomed to decline.

Curiosity selects our life partners. Curiosity decides what profession we will choose and where we will work. Curiosity determines how we will spend our money and where we will go on holiday. It decides where, for whom, and for what we will vote, the car we drive, where we make a life and a home. Curiosity might even determine where and whom we worship. Curiosity is the backbone of life and the scaffolding on which society is built.

In Organizations

The second text I read over the winter was from a university research project I participated in. The goal of the research was to determine the importance of curiosity in managing organizations and companies. The project left no doubt that the reason for business failure is often lack of curiosity. Over the course of the research, it became clear that many of the organizations under scrutiny had no free forum for the exchange of information. This eventually led them to lag behind their competition and struggle to survive.

In some organizations, difficult questions were openly discouraged. The leadership was not prepared to discuss the organization’s policies with employees, critics, or other interested parties. This was a grave error which often generated poor results.

In the Church

When curiosity is discouraged in a free market, it has no negative results for the community. The competition will take care of that. If one energy provider is not open and transparent and fails to give satisfactory answers to your questions, you can simply go to another one. But when a culture of "don’t ask, don’t tell" gains dominance in governments, healthcare, and educational institutions, there is a problem. Their very existence is threatened. Essential services and organizations are threatened, and the community is ultimately the victim.

You can probably imagine that in other organizations a lack of curiosity is also destructive even where the competition of a free market is not a factor. Think of churches and sports organizations, for example, which are not part of the free market economy. Think of the FIFA, the international football association, where things would never have gotten so out of hand if curiosity had been fostered within the organization. Think of the misconduct within the Roman Catholic Church.

Keep Searching

The third text I would like to share with you comes from Ellen White’s Council to Writers. Over a number of pages (33-38), which I will summarize in my own words, she warns us against being content with common knowledge. She encourages us to keep searching for more knowledge—and deeper knowledge—of the truth.

She also writes that we should not measure everything we read, hear, or see against that common knowledge. Instead, we must keep searching for new truth, without losing the truth that has already been revealed to us. She calls those church members who are not open to this continual search "conservative." I call them spiritually lazy.


So what do all the writings I have shared with you in this article mean? What do they say about curiosity? Roeland van der Vorst writes that without curiosity there is nothing: everything stands still. The university study suggests that organizations that fail to create space for curiosity do not deserve to exist. Ellen White says that we should stop endlessly interrogating what we already believe and start working toward a renewed and deeper belief.

My conclusion? Long live the curious—they will be blessed!

The Sermon on the Mount

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He says this: "if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me" (NRSV). Jesus says "if you hear my voice" not "if you hear me knock." This means that it is important for us to learn Jesus’ voice. In order to do so, we must let our curiosity lead us. It would be terrible if we were unable to recognize his voice at the First Coming and had to remain asleep until the Second. We need to be curious about Jesus.

I doubt many of us have ever heard Jesus speak, so the question is how can we recognize his voice? I like to direct people to the words of Laurence Turner, the recently retired Professor of Old Testament at Newbold College. He warns us that everything about Jesus’ coming will be different than we think, know, and predict. The Second Coming is not about the how, the what, or the when. It is about the who: Jesus. It is about what he said and did and about what he taught us and gave us as our guide. The Sermon on the Mount is the script for our times. If we concentrate on it and are curious about what Jesus really meant, we will have the answer and recognize his voice. Be curious about Jesus’ voice, and do not be distracted by the details.


Dr. Tom de Bruin, Sr., is the CEO of Bureau Pretorius, a consultancy firm for people and companies with management issues. He is a father, grandfather, and active member of the Adventist church. This story was originally published by Advent, the magazine of the Dutch Church. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image Credit: FreeImages.com / Armin Hanisch


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