Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the telos of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:8-9
I eased the focusing dial between my thumb and index finger to the right. As the viewfinder on my telescope drew the wispy ellipse into definition, I breathed out a single word.
It was the first night that I had turned my new Celestron Nexstar 6SE telescope toward the Andromeda Galaxy. I had spent some time studying lunar craters, Saturn’s rings, and Jupiter’s moons, but this was attempt number one at an entirely other galaxy. It took couple of different lenses and filters, but I found it. Andromeda was beautiful.
The back-of-the-baseball-card stats on Andromeda are astonishing. That glowing orb in my eyepiece is a cloud of around one trillion stars whirling through space some 2.5 million light years distant from earth. Put another way: the image bouncing through my telescope’s mirrors actually represents what Andromeda looked like 2.5 million years ago. It’s staggering to consider: the lightwaves beaming from the galaxy have been sailing through the cosmos for that long – at 671,000,000 mph, mind you – before terminating at my right eye.
The gigantic numbers and exotic scientific concepts that astronomy requires are fertile ground for mind-melt, aren’t they? All of the commas and exponents and distances and velocities can beleaguer the brain. It all starts to feel almost hypothetical, like a theory or something. A fable.
But then, on a summer night, you walk outside, aim a telescope skyward, and see that it’s all true. It’s real. It’s out there.
Spiritually speaking, is anything really out there? This is a question that most people raised in a faith tradition have probably considered at one time or another. Do our religious words correspond to something actual, or are they merely vacuous scripts designed to keep faith communities pulling in the same direction? Do our prayers accomplish anything, or are our acts of piety just soothing meditations intended to gear down our frazzled minds? Is it really true that our lives have some lasting and objective meaning, or are we short-term happenstances in a world of vibrating strings? Is God maybe just a hypothesis?
Telos is a resource for people who are, have, or may someday ask these questions. Believing any certain way about their answers doesn’t exclude you from participating. We’re subtitling this Dreams and Devotions for the Way after all; where you are on that Way isn’t a prereq for reflecting with us.
But make no mistake – the content here reflects a hard-earned, Jacob-wrestling-with-God-all-night kind of conviction: there is something out there. Life is meaningful. Faith corresponds to a beautiful actual reality. Some One is orchestrating this thing and wouldn’t ever want to do it without you.
This conclusion is implied in the title, but don’t beat yourself up for not knowing that. Telos isn’t a commonly-used English word. In fact, it’s not English at all, it’s Greek. Loosely translated, telos means “purpose” or “outcome.” “Endgame” might work too.
If you look hard enough, you can see it in the word “telescope;” the implication is that in that instrument, pointed at a distant sailing ship or across a canyon or out toward another galaxy, we can see (“scope out”) the telos – what’s distant, what’s at the far end. The telescope offers us new awareness that there is something more beyond.
The New Testament of the Bible uses forms of this word liberally and cross-contextually. Check out a couple of references from the New International Version:
Matthew 24:13-14 – The one who stands firm to the end (telos) will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end (telos) will come.
Romans 6:22 – Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result (telos) is eternal life.
1 Peter 3:8 – Finally (telos), all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
Revelation 21:6-7 – [The One seated on the throne] said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (telos). To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.
The Bible’s broad and repeated use of this word hints at something – that life does indeed have purpose, that there is a design, an intended outcome for the human community and for her individual members.
It’s only natural for human beings to want to seek out what that design might be. An early Christian leader named Origen put it this way:
For as the eye by nature seeks light and sight and our body instinctively craves food and drink, so our mind nurtures a desire, which is natural and proper, to know the truth of God and to learn the causes of things. Moreover we have not been given this desire by God in such a way that it should not or cannot be satisfied. For if the love of truth were never able to be satisfied, it would seem to have been implanted in our mind by the creator in vain.
I know I’m up for the search. I know I’m still out for truth.
Telos is a wayplace for that – for thinking about God, the Scriptures, and the Christian faith. It’s a home for our dreams and devotions and for seeking the truth about our place in the universe. It looks for clues to our purpose in microscopes as well as telescopes, since – if everything is really moving toward an ultimate outcome, then everything should be tracking in that direction. There should be inertia toward the life’s final destination. In big things and small, we’ll find ourselves moving perceptibly God-ward.
Let’s turn our eyes to see what’s out there.