What’s the point of all the suffering Christians go through? What is God trying to accomplish? What’s the goal? The Bible talks a lot about this using the Greek word “telos”.

The Meaning (Telos) for Suffering

Telos (τέλος) Origin Greek[1]:

  1. A point of time marking the end of a duration.
  2. The last part of a process.
  3. The goal toward which a movement is being directed.
  4. Last in a series.
  5. Revenue obligation.

Telos Examples from Scripture

1st Peter 1:9 obtaining the outcome (telos) of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end (telos) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (ESV)

James 5:11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose (telos) of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Revelation 22:13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end (telos).” All of these scriptural quotations are taken from the ESV.

Of course, the book of Job probably says more about pain and suffering than any single other book of the Bible.

Clearly, telos is a very flexible word. However, in this article we’re focusing on the “goal” aspect of it’s usage.

Telos in Conversation at the Credo House

While working behind the bar of the Credo House the other day (yes, I do make coffees!), a man came to talk to me about something that had been weighing on his heart. “Michael,” he said, “how do you know what God is trying to accomplish through the suffering that we go through? What is his end, purpose or goal.” Now, of course, this question (and variations) is on the lips of all of us more than we would like:

  • What is God trying to do?
  • What is the purpose for this cancer?
  • Why is God allowing me to have this back problem?
  • Why does God allow my husband to treat me like this?
  • What is God trying to produce?”
  • The “Normal” Way to Encourage Suffering People

In such situations, we normally try to look ahead in an attempt to discern the telos (or purpose) of our pain. We want to know why. We want to see some cosmic earth shaking importance.

People who encourage us in our pain will often say things like this: “God is allowing you to go through this so that you will be prepared for x, y, or z.” The x, y, and z always equates to “something great”. “God is going to do great things with you” is the essence of what they will say. Why? Not only because they believe it, but because it seems to medicate our suffering. It focuses us on the end goal; God’s glory.

God’s Telos in Suffering is Not Ours

However, I’m not sure if God’s purposes are quite so lofty. Let me put that another way: I am not so sure that our idea of lofty ends, goals, and purposes are God’s idea.

I told the gentleman that God may certainly be shaping him for some future event. But He may not be. In other words, we don’t have to think in “cosmic” terms to find meaning to our suffering and pain. Sometimes belief is the end goal. No, not future belief:

  • Belief right now.
  • Belief while in pain.
  • Belief while suffering.
  • Belief while confused.
  • Belief while tragedy is in our living room.

We fail to realize how “cosmic” belief really is. We fail to realize how much glory God receives from simply believing Him through our pain. We fail to see that an enduring quiet belief is often greater than any of the lofty things we can imagine.

God is looking for those who trust and believe Him no matter the suffering, no matter the pain, no matter what difficulties arise precisely because when we continue to persevere in our belief through such trying times He is glorified greater than we can possibly imagine. Belief is the end.

Aligning Our Telos to God’s Telos

This doesn’t mean He’s not making us into something different or preparing us for some future event, encounter, or ministry. However, these things need to take a back seat in our thinking to the glory of belief right now. God loves to be believed. So if you are suffering greatly and looking for hope in a product that God is trying to produce in the future, turn your eyes to the present and see what a rare and cosmic thing believing in God right now truly is.

The endurance of your faith in the face of suffering may be the only telos you ever see. But that is the God we serve. For the most part, our lives and faith will be defined by the quiet cosmic endurance of our belief. In doing so, we may alleviate ourselves of the crippling “why” question by always having an immediate answer: so that we can have the opportunity to believe in a time when belief is hard to come by.

[1]. This partial definition of telos was taken from: Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : 998. Print.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    8 replies to "Making Sense of All Suffering – What is the Telos of Pain?"

    • David

      I thank you so much for this practical and helpful article. I know in tribulation, it is always easy to ask , Why? I know I do. 2 Cor 1:1-10 has always been an encouragement to me, especially 8-10
      For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭8-10‬ KJV)
      Paul said the tribulation was greater than him and he was even on the brink of death, but God simply wanted Paul to trust in Him and not His own strength. He is the God that raises the dead and raises us as we lift our eyes in faith to Him. Thanks for the thoughts on sufferering, they are helpful for our family in this time.

    • a.

      “A point of time marking the end of a duration.”

      an appointed time for everything and a time for every event under heaven—

      we SEE MORE,BELIEVE MORE, EMBRACE MORE the tragedy of rebellion and that only GOD IS TRUE, merciful, gracious, for with every trial and the evil of evil, it is proved, growing our faith and appreciation for the Lord’s perfection and holy way..
      ..the LORD God commanded the man, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die; but from this beginning, there is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death, spreading to all men because all sin, subjecting creation to curse and futility. But in grace and mercy, He has set an appointed time for everything, even curse end and for creation to be set free from slavery to corruption; deciding even to have children and reveal sons, out of this grand mess; in the meantime, the whole creation must groan and we groan and suffer the pains of childbirth together, anxiously, eagerly longing, waiting for that appointed time- our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body, the promised revealing of the sons of God; and in the meantime,through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God, giving thanks to God for having chosen us from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and FAITH IN THE TRUTH that we may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.. despite our rebellion.

    • the Old Adam

      It’s just the way it is in a fallen world.

      But God uses it all for His purposes.

    • a.

      oops. reminded to come back to clarify…”despite our FORMER way of rebellion” for we are convinced of better things concerning us

    • Erico L. Rempel

      Michael, I’m speechless. This simple post has got to be one of the best I have read on this subject. It makes me think that all your suffering has been worth it. Without faith it is impossible to please Him, and I think He is pleased with you.

    • Brian C

      I think there needs to be a definition or an understanding on what “suffering” means. It doesn’t seem apparent to me the bible includes or excludes the average, day-to-day junk that happens to people who live in a fallen, broken world — fatal diseases, losing a job, divorce, etc. It does address the suffering as a result of believing in Jesus, like persecution.

      it seems like we try to co-op the former meaning into some grand design/plan by God out of a belief “all things work for good.” This reference is only to one verse yet we make a whole lot out of it. But proverbs, I believe, says chance happens to all. We don’t seem to make much of that verse. Yet if we did approach our suffering, not with the grand design thinking, but the it just happens for various natural and/or random reasons the suffering might be more endurable. The suffering happens along with the joys of life. Life has highs and lows, being a christian does not make you immune to them.

      Another thing. “It focuses us on the end goal; God’s glory.”

      I don’t agree with this. People do not question their suffering because they are concerned about giving God glory. The bible makes a very direct, common and frequent appeal to people’s self interest in accepting and understanding God. That self interest is the same self interest that operates in trying to make sense of the suffering.

      I wonder about something. Do christians try to make sense out of their suffering more than non-believers? If so, does that mean our knowledge of God causes us to assume something that may not be true? Like, being a christian means I get out of suffering and pain. God will save me in other words.

      The concept of God’s glory is uncomfortable here and seems to play an important role in the last half of this piece.

      “We fail to realize how much glory God receives from simply believing Him through our pain.”

      Is God interested in getting glory when we are struggling in our faith and suffering in our bodies and souls? Does anyone think God is working towards that as a goal?

    • Tara Kerksick

      Thank you so much right now with this artical. I’m really messed up right now in the head and when reading this guy’sthesis, I was repenting of my sins again, jumping into bathtub to baptize my self and recieve baptisism of the Holy Ghost. I was trying to watch my sins and it was driving me more crazy. Can someone give me an opition on his artical? Also, his websight is here.

    • […] Here is a link to an article from the Parchment and Pen blog on God’s purposes in our sufferings. The author […]

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