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”.
Telos (τέλος) Origin Greek:
- A point of time marking the end of a duration.
- The last part of a process.
- The goal toward which a movement is being directed.
- Last in a series.
- 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.
. 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 is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
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. He can be contacted at [email protected]