The sin of curiosity

If you read Christian theology, you’ll come across something called the sin of curiosity. For example, the Westminster Larger Catechism lists “curious searching into God’s secrets” as a breach of the first commandment (Q.105). At first, the sin of curiosity sounds odd to 21stcentury ears. After all, we encourage curiosity in our children, don’t we? Isn’t curiosity a good thing? I’m encouraged whenever I meet Christians who ask me thoughtful questions about the Bible and Christian truth. Sometimes I tear my hair out at the lack of Christian’s curiosity! 

So, what is this sin of curiosity?

What God has and hasn’t revealed 

Well, in the Bible, God teaches us a very important distinction between what he’s chosen to reveal and what he hasn’t revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 is a good place to see this. That verse talks about “the secret things” and “the things that are revealed”. 

Now, what are the things that are revealed? Well, it’s relatively straightforward; the things that are revealed consists of the 66 books of the Bible. Deut 29:29 tells us that we’re the owner of the “things that are revealed”: “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever”. In other words, God wants us to pay attention to, focus on, and shape our lives by what he’s revealed. This revelation is for us. It’s impossible to be too curious about what God’s revealed. So, ask away! Examine, search, study, pry, nose around in God’s word as much as you can. Every jot and tittle is yours. 

God’s “top secret” folder

The sin of curiosity is about trying to pry into the “secret things”. What are the “secret things”? The “secret things” refers to everything that God’s chosen not to tell us. Deut 29:29 calls God the owner of these “secret things”: “the secret things belong to the LORD our God”. In other words, they are not for us; they are secret! 

You can picture God’s “secret things” like a “top secret” folder in a drawer. This folder is stuffed with information. If you stop and think about what that folder contains, your imagination will begin to run wild. Think of its quantity – it contains more information than a billion internets. It covers everything in the past, present, and future! Think of its quality – it’s got levels of detail in and accuracy there unlike anything on earth. You can read the exact date, time, and circumstances of your death. You can read the names of your great, great, grandchildren. It explains the reason why bad things have happened to you and your loved ones. “Why was I abused?”. “Why did I lose my job?”.  “Why did you let my baby die?”. 

God’s “top secret” folder is mind-bogglingly big. The total tonnage of what we don’t know is overwhelming.

A sneak peek! 

The Bible gives a couple of examples, where God gives people a sneak peek into that folder:

The apostle Paul was once caught up to the third heaven. “He heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor 12:4). What was it?! What did Paul hear?! Wouldn’t you like to know? Why couldn’t it be uttered?

The apostle John saw a mighty angel with a little scroll in his hand (Rev 10:2). This angel shouted and “seven thunders sounded”. John says: “When the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘… do not write it down’. What did John hear?! Wouldn’t you like to know what he was about to write down?! Why was he stopped? 

Divine data protection

Curiosity doesn’t like to be kept in the dark. Curiosity is uncomfortable with not knowing. It’s easy for us to start to question God’s motives. The fact that that folder is labelled “top secret” can start to bother us. Why hasn’t God told us? Why is God keeping secrets from us? If a wife knew her husband had a “top secret” folder, which she was not to look at, she might (rightly) start to grow suspicious. 

When we think like that, it’s helpful to consider who “owns” the folder. The “secret things belong to the LORD”, remember. 

Imagine if you came round to my house, and popped upstairs to go to the toilet. 20 minutes later you hadn’t reappeared, so I went upstairs to check you were OK. I found you in my bedroom, rifling through my drawers, reading my diaries, reading my emails. How would I react?! I’d be furious! “Who do you think you are?!”, I’d say. 

In this age of big data, we’re increasingly conscious of the importance of data protection and data privacy. My data is mine, and not for you to splash around to others. What we think of as God “keeping us in the dark” is actually about us outrageously nosing into something that we have no right to know. Though our relationship to God is wonderfully close – even closer than a husband and a wife – there is no equality between us, the creatures, and God, our Creator. 

The divine response to us trying to read God’s secret diaries is: “who do you think you are?!”. 

Curiosity killed the cat

Investigative journalists are, by nature, curious; they like to sniff out stories. They don’t just take people’s word for it. There’s a suspicion and scepticism about the official message. They dig around for dirt, snooping around, and sleuthing. There’s a place for investigative journalism. 

But curiosity about God’s “top secret” folder is a big no go. That kind of curiosity is not harmless. It’s a killer. It’s what killed our first parents. Isn’t this what Adam and Eve were doing when they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? They were curious. 

Pastorally, curiosity continues to be a killer in the Christian life. Every heretic is driven by curiosity and a desire to read God’s diaries. It’s a force in our spiritual lives that wants to know stuff about God that isn’t in the Bible, or can’t, by good and necessary consequence, be got from the Bible. It’s a dissatisfaction with the Bible. It’s a desire to get behind the Bible or beyond the Bible. It’s unhappy with the limits of Scripture. At bottom, it reveals a stunning intellectual arrogance. It’s us as creatures acting like we’re the Creator. 

Mind your own business! 

What should we do when we struggle with the sin of curiosity? 

“Mind our own business!”.

God tells us in Deuteronomy 29:29 that “the things that are revealed belong to us and our children”. The sad fact is that while we’re busy trying to nose around in God’s secrets, we’re ignoring the very thing that is our business. We’re neglecting the truths God has revealed. Our frustration with being “kept in the dark” actually keeps us from walking in the light! Rather than spending your time trying to suss out what God hasn’t told you, pay attention to what he has said. Adore Jesus Christ. Explore and swim around in the infinite depths of what he has revealed. Learn it, teach it to your family, and others in your life.