Cultivating Wonder

One of the great gifts of childhood is curiosity.  Many children simply love to explore.  The nagging “whys?” of the four-year-old demonstrate God’s design for human learning.  Set loose in the garden, the inquisitive child tirelessly turns over rocks and logs and other debris to discover what mysteries might lie beneath.

These gifts of curiosity and amazement are essential to learning about life.  In Michener’s novel Space, a father expresses fear for his dull son Millard who “had failed to develop one of the most precious human attributes, wonder, and the ability to project oneself into the unexplored dimensions.”  If we, like Millard, fail to cultivate curiosity and amazement, we too can grow dull.

The Baptist preacher Vance Havner described the evan­gelist Gypsy Smith, who was an active preacher for seventy years.  When asked the secret of his freshness and vigor, even into his old age, Smith replied, “I have never lost the wonder.”

Havner concludes his essay by telling the story of a passenger on a long train trip.  When everyone was bored by the monotony of the trip, this one passenger kept exclaiming “wonderful” at the sight of the most average scenery.  Finally he was asked by another traveler the reason for his conspicuous excitement.  He answered, “Until a few days ago, I was a blind man.  A great doctor has just given me my sight, and what is ordinary to you is out of this world to me.”

Theologian Bernard Ramm states that part of our “probation” on earth is to learn the secrets of nature.  Curiosity, wondering and the desire to explore are, in his understanding, part of our participation in God’s redemptive process in this broken world.

“The entire system of Nature,” writes Ramm in The Christian View of Science and Scripture “involves tigers and lions, storms and high tides, diseases and parasites.  It is part of our probation to learn how to capture or control the tiger and the lion; to learn how to protect ourselves from storms or tornadoes, to learn the mysteries of chemicals and bacteria for the healing of the body.  If we fail in this probation, innocent and sinful suffer alike.  The baby dies of infection and the mother of fever; the young man of appendicitis and the prophet of pneumonia” (pp. 64-65).

We need curiosity about every aspect of the world around us: forests and field, oceans and ocelots, microbes and super-novas.  The heavens and earth are God’s gift to us, but these gifts must be opened and researched, observed and explored in order to gain the full revelation that He has given us.

In his lectures to his preaching students, the gifted orator and 19th Century British pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon instructed pastors to enliven their sermons through their observation of and investigation into nature: “Watch for subjects as you go about the city or the country,” Spurgeon wrote.  “Always keep your eyes and ears open and you will hear and see angels.  The world is full of sermons: catch them on the wing.”

Curiosity and investigation and the resulting wonder are all part of our education in wisdom in this life.  Start wondering about the things that surround you.  Learn about the plants.  Explore the forest.  Take time to contemplate the detail of a rose or tree bark or the movement of the ant.  Listen to the birds.  Marvel at the colors of the rainbow or the sunset.  Go snorkeling.  Turn over a few rocks.


On this topic of wonder & worship, see also Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel, Chapter 5 – “Cormorants & Kittiwakes”