Telos= an ultimate object or aim, the end term of a goal-directed process.
What is your telos? As a kid I remember thinking that my ultimate aim was to become a professional athlete, and had I not be paralyzingly terrified of getting hit by a pitch I may have had a career in the majors. Oddly enough I was a great catcher, but my fear of a 100mph fastball exploding my head off was too much for what would have been a lucrative baseball career. I remember writing about, telling people about, practicing for, and daydreaming about one day playing in the majors. Many evenings were spent playing 500, pickle, or whatever other game played into the fantasy of my future. Not only did I hope that, “one day” I would play for the A’s, but almost everything that I spent my time on was working to that goal. My thoughts and actions reflected a teleological goal of becoming the next Rickey Henderson.
Those dreams have died away and have been replaced by careers in soccer, and hockey, making a great living as a comedian, author, or speaker, or being the best dad in the world. Whatever my goal has been, and I mean a real goal, not just a “wish on a whim,” has both enticed my imagination and hope and has had tangible effects on my life. It is the goal, or telos of each of these things that steers the path that the future holds. The future goal has present implications.
While this may seem like an obvious statement, if we were to step back and evaluate our lives would we see a person with a telos that is heading in a direction we truly desire? I think that too often we are consumed with so much present chaos, whether it’s work, bills, projects, entertainment, that if we are honest with ourselves or teleological goals don’t extend beyond the next vacation we have. If asked what we want with life we may respond with some obvious answer of “happiness,” “joy” or “love” but these aren’t teleological if they don’t motivate or change our present situation. It’s like saying “I want to be able to play the piano,” with access to the needed instruction, and equipment to make that happen, and yet doing nothing to make that happen. You don’t want to be able to play the piano, you like the idea of being able to, but if you really wanted to, your actions, your life would be changed by the “teleological” statement you made.
The Book of Ecclesiastes is a mysteriously, and possibly depressing book of wisdom literature found in the Old Testament. When reading through the writer's warning it is hard not to find yourself assuming a drab, sad, bleak teleological outlook on life. Much of what the writer has to say seems less than encouraging to whatever type of life we find ourselves in. BUT looking at Ecclesiastes in this way is extremely shortsighted, or non-teleological.
Here the story that the author reminds us of over and over again: Everything under the sun is vapor. It seems to have substance, but it quickly fades and you’re left empty handed. Pretty chipper right? Well if that’s where the author left us that would for sure suck, but over and over we are reminded also that God is in control. We are shown that knowing God reorients our telos, and when that happens, our present situation is exposed to the light of joy and life that God provides. We can live in the vapor of now because God is not vapor- He is the real, beginning and end (telos).
This outlook is critical in a culture that promotes and celebrates the things of here and now in a way that invites us to forget about our telos. Remember, all that stuff will fade away, it’s a vapor. The thing that lasts is that which has always been and will always be -God’s Kingdom-, and it is with this understanding that we can enjoy the redeemed things of this world. There is much to be enjoyed here as an act of worship and celebration for the One who does not fade away. As you read Ecclesiastes sit in the funk of the vapor of this all, but then rejoice that this is not all, then go enjoy some of the vapor: a baseball game, some comedy, ice cream, your iphone. Thank God for all that he has given us and let them all be a reminder of a God whose Kingdom of goodness will forever reign.