Courage and Curiosity

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My son is now a college student studying Psychology. Today he said to me,You know Dad, I was a reading an article that said that children ask a lot of questions but that as they move on into adolescence and beyond, they ask far fewer questions. I don’t know. I think I’m different. I really enjoy asking question.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

He continued, “I remember the exact time that I realized that it was great to ask questions. Do you know when that was?” I had no idea. “One day when I was very young, we were waiting in our van in the parking lot and I asked you, ‘Dad, if I stir hot water in a cup, will it heat up or cool down?’ You said, ‘Joel, that is a very interesting and very intelligent question.” Then you went into a story about that question, followed by an attempt to answer the question. I really did not understand much of the answer you gave, but I decided that day that asking questions is really awesome.”

I remember that day now. He was just a little kid… far too young to know about the Laws of Thermodynamics. When he asked the question, I could have said,

A) “Son, you are much too young to understand the answer.”

B) “Son, why would you want to know that?”

C) “Son, I’m tired. Don’t bother me now.”

D) “Look it up yourself.”

E) “I don’t know.”

I suppose I could have could have given him any of those answers. On a bad day, I might have done just that. Happily, I chose a better option that day.

This is what I said, “Joel, that was a very interesting and intelligent question. Let me tell you why. Years ago, I was attending Naval Nuclear Power School. One of the instructors was telling me about the day he was trying to be accepted into the Nuclear Navy as an officer. He went through a couple of interviews and then he had to be interviewed by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover the father of the US nuclear submarine program. So he was guided into an office with a little old man behind a big desk. He stood at attention and Rickover just ignored him while stirring his coffee. After an uncomfortable silence, finally the admiral said, “So, I have been stirring this coffee for awhile now. Has my stirring it heated it up or cooled it down?” The young man had no idea, but started talking about the action of stirring adding thermal energy to the coffee, heating it up. However, the action also increased natural convection and reduced boundary layer effects, which should increase cooling. At the end of his talk about the coffee cup he gave some answer that he hoped was right. That was the only question the admiral asked him… just told him to leave. He never did find out if he got the question right, but he was approved to be a nuclear power officer. So Joel, I am not sure the answer to your question either. But I can tell you this. It is a very interesting and intelligent question.”

Around New Years, people go around with HAPPY New Years, or PROSPEROUS New Years, or BLESSED New Years. I won’t wish you any of those things. I will wish you this:

Have a COURAGEOUS and CURIOUS New Years.

In Christianity, we often squelch questions. Some questions express doubt and doubt is bad, correct? Some questions question God, and we should never question God, isn’t that right? Some questions may express moral weakness, so maybe you should ask less and pray or read your Bible more, right? Some questions are not answerable, and aren’t questions that cannot be answered a waste of time? Some questions challenge the knowledge, wisdom, and authority of experts, and who are you to make such a challenge? <Yes…I am speaking or typing ironically here.>

I don’t believe that at all. Strong faith is faith that is challenged and questioned. God seems to appreciate a good question, and doesn’t appear to mind even a bad question. Questions provide opportunity for growth in a way that acts of piety may not. Questioning the wisdom of experts is needed for change and insight. Even when the experts are correct, the correctness cannot truly be appreciated unless it is first challenged.

Christian missions and the Christian life is not simply memorizing a catechism and following some set procedures. It is growing in relationship with a living God, living with a community of faith, and interacting with a broader society. Questions help us grow in these relationships in a healthy way.

So I wish for you to be curious. I hope that will lead you to ask questions. Be courageous enough to ask the questions that people will try to stop you from asking… those are often the best questions.

And I hope you will show mercy for those with questions. Peter in I Peter 3:15 and 16 gives good advice to give good answers with the right attitude. Squelching questions does not accomplish this.


One thought on “Courage and Curiosity

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