One of the most profound ways humans live our vocation of reflecting God as unique image bearers is through creating. Unlike any other beast of the field or bird of the air, people can make. We cannot create ex-nihilo like God (thus the fact that we are reflecting or echoing), but we can take all that God has created and transform it into useful and beautiful things.
Somewhere along the line someone combined pigmented plants into paint and began to make images on cave walls. Over time people noticed that some wall-decorators made buffaloes and warriors that looked more life-like and vibrant, so they took on the job of painting stories and likenesses. Now the Mona Lisa hangs on the wall of the Louvre and my kids splatter pre-packaged watercolor paints all over our table.
Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.
– Leo Burnett
One day, thousands of years ago, a woman worked at grinding some grain or skinning a rabbit to cook for dinner, and as she worked she hummed. What did she hum? Just some notes that came to mind subconsciously. No, that one sounded wrong, kind of ugly. Yes, there it is, the right note, the beautiful one. And a song was composed and dissonance was discovered. And now Nashville exists with a musician or five playing in every restaurant and honky tonk and music labels scattered across the city.
A man once heaved his pick into the hard, dry earth again and again under the burning sun. How would he till enough soil and transport enough water to his little garden patch for his crops to grow and feed his family? He thought about a nearby stream and wondered, “Yes . . .I could dig a trench from there to his little patch.” The ground would be softened and the seeds watered so they could grow. And now as we drive across Indiana, Iowa, or Kansas we see combines the size of small houses harvesting crops by the acre irrigated with miles of pipes. Enough to feed millions of people.
Once doctors bled patients. They put leeches on them to suck out the poison. They sprinkled them with the blood of animals to ward off the evil. They used rusty implements with unwashed hands to do surgery while patients bit rags or sticks until they passed out from the pain to keep from grinding their teach of chomping their tongues. A forty five year old was a village elder, and a seventy year old was mystically or magically old. But this week I took my daughter to a sparkling clean pediatrician’s office replete with fish tank in the waiting room and Sponge Bob Square Pants on TV. After thirty minutes, a throat swab, and signature we were on our way to the pharmacy where an antibiotic prescription awaited us. And now, three days later, a disease that might have killed her two hundred years ago is gone from her body.
We can engineer buildings and cities and transportation systems that connect entire countries and continents. I have a device on the table next to me right now that allows me to send a message to multiple social media networks, FaceTime with my kids, call my wife, make a to-do list that will remind me when to do it, and a billion other things, both useful and mundane. I write this sentence on the backlit keyboard of a Macbook Pro that is more powerful and with more memory than the devices they used to put men on the moon. And that was a pretty amazing technological and scientific feat all it’s own.
I sit here in this coffee shop drinking an Americano made on a sleek stainless steel machine with espresso beans shipped in from Brazil while listening to Oscar Peterson, who died nearly ten years ago, massage my ears with his jazz piano skills. How? How does this compilation of experiences and sensations happen? Man’s creativity and ingenuity as they reflect the image of God by doing and making amazing things.
Creativity is art. It is inventiveness and ingenuity. It is the pursuit of beauty and efficiency. It is the connecting of ideas and resources to make new ideas and better resources. You and I were created to create and discover, created for the vocation of reflecting God’s image. But we were not created to live in isolation. God made man, and it was, the Bible tells us, not good for him to be alone. He was to be in relationship, to live communally. Our vocation is a collective one, a joining together of individuals into cultures to reflect God.
And as people come together to do this, to find ways for lives to intersect and work together, cultures and subcultures are created. This means that cultures reflect the image of God. In the West we think individualistically – “I am made in God’s image.” In many parts of the world, though, people view identity as collective – “We are made in God’s image.” Both are correct so long as they do not discount the other. In many cases, the movement of a culture, a group of people, can actually reflect more of God. Like a mosaic is many bright tiles combines to create a picture so a culture is many little reflections combined to present a greater image.
Where does curiosity fit in all this about creation, vocation, creativity, and God’s image? It is the key to sorting it all out, to making a way forward, to actually fulfilling the vocational calling we have to reflect God’s image.
We are not only created to reflect and echo God, we are tasked with doing so in all of life. We were created in a manner unlike any other being, able to create. A huge portion of creativity is discovery.
Jonas Salk didn’t create the polio vaccine from nothing; he discovered it. Albert Einstein didn’t create the theory of relativity from nothing; he discovered it through research and trial and error. Beethoven wrote symphonies, created them, but even that was based on compilations of little discoveries along the way. The same is true for Steve Jobs’ inventions, and Winston Churchill’s leadership. Creativity is discovery put to good use in a fresh way. We cannot discover unless we ask and search; that is curiosity!
Yet, while we are created to reflect God, He never actually discovered anything. He was never curious about anything. He never learned anything. That’s one of the effects of knowing everything, being everywhere, and being eternal. He knows the inner-workings of every bit of matter, the gravitational relationships between cosmic bodies, the thoughts and emotions of humans and animals alike, the history of everything and how all things came to pass, and what will come to pass in the future. And he understands how all of them fit together all of the time across all eras. He created it all and sustains it all. There is nothing for God to discover.
How can we reflect an eternal, infinite God if He has a nature and characteristics we can never emulate? Vocation. We’re back to that word again. A calling, a set of tasks to which we are suited. Our reflection of God is not passive. Our echoing is not inactive. We do not echo like a canyon wall, still and static while noise bounces off of us. We echo like town criers, taking up the message and passing it along clearly and loudly. We reflect on purpose, with intention, by taking action.
And one of those actions is discovery – about God Himself. In order to represent God to the world we must know Him, and to do that we must learn. We must search for truth about His nature, His character, and His work. We must explore both His Word and His world. We absolutely must be curious if we are Christians. Without it we cease to grow and we become incapable of fulfilling our purpose in life.
If we start by growing in this divine curiosity we will then be prepared to begin exploring this weird, complicated messy world that is full of so much amazing truth and beauty and so many awful lies and horror. In brick laying a plumb line is the instrument used to determine whether a wall is perfectly vertical and at the proper ninety degree angle from the ground. Discovery in and of God gives us a plumb line to measure our discoveries of the world. Are they true? Are they right? Do they reflect God? And, more subtly, what pieces of them are good and what pieces need to be discarded or ignored?
Godly curiosity keeps us from becoming simplistic legalists who just label everything as either good or bad. This is discernment, a trait all wise Christians have, and one that relies on curiosity so that it can deeply understand. Most things in our world are not purely good or bad. Curiosity rooted deeply in God’s truth – discernment, that is – helps us see what aspects of culture or creation are beautiful and true and which are not. Being simplistic means we throw a lot of babies out with even more bathwater (an absolutely horrific word picture, if you think about it).
To be a vibrant Christian is to be curious. The more we discover of God the more truth we will know and embody and reflect. The more truth we embody and reflect the more we will recognize it in other parts of creation – other cultures, unfamiliar circumstances, new relationships, unexpected circumstances, novel inventions. 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 naivety or ignorance.
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.
This post is adapted from an excerpt in my book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life. If you are interested in seeing what kind of curious person you are (or are not) visit CuriousChristianBook.com and take the short assessment.