Thriving vs Being Good: The Telos of Life

While having dinner at a friend’s place up in North Hollywood, I was trying to scoop salad with a pasta spoon – one of those with the serrated, round teeth and holes in the middle.  I was noticeably having some difficulty scooping the lettuce, carrots and tomatoes on to my wife’s plate as I tried to serve her.  The lettuce didn’t actually fit in the spoon but instead kept getting stuck on the serrated teeth.  After watching me struggle for a few minutes, our hosts asked each other, “Do we have any salad tongs?”. Ah, salad tongs would be more appropriate for the task and elements at hand.  After I struggled some more with the pasta spoon one of the hosts finally stated, “That pasta spoon wasn’t meant for scooping salad.”  He got up, went to the kitchen and proceeded to look for a different, more appropriate utensil.  While he was searching, I adamantly continued to try and make the pasta spoon work on the salad.  What ended my stubborn endeavor was when I accidentally flicked a score of lettuce and carrot strips all over my wife that led to an eruption of laughter.

Believe it or not, I pondered on this principle of the evening: the pasta spoon was not designed for scooping salad.  It’s a simple principle, but one that seems to allude us much in life.  We do a lot of doing and feeling in everyday life while living purposefully according to our design seems to be something many struggle to grasp.  Our natural inclination when we’re not living full lives is to try harder.  But perhaps the key is to more accurately discover our design so that we may live a life that’s purposefully fulfilled.  By this I mean not just doing good in life but thriving in it.  To some measure, we can all scoop salad with a pasta spoon and make-do, but that’s not what it was designed for.  Salad tongs would be more effective.  What is our unique, God-given design?

The philosophers of old, like Aristotle, believed there was purpose behind every development and action in the universe.  He called it final causes.  It’s this purposeful end that drove the ebbs and flows of nature and lives.  In other words, we were “meant for” something.  Some in history, like Nietzsche, have said there is no ultimate purpose for anything – things just are and any movement of sorts is a way of exerting power.  If you remove the existence of God from the universe, as Nietzsche did, then there is no grand design or purposeful mind behind our world.  There is nothing sacred about our existence in a God-less reality.  But our soulish hunger for purpose would tell us otherwise; our natural intent to think that “there’s a reason for everything” tells us there is such a thing as purpose.  Why would intellectual beings invent an intangible principle of purpose if there were none in the universe?  Our world is not just natural; it’s teleological.  And if there is purpose, then there is a grand mind behind all that is, which is why our souls yearn to discover our purpose.  We are by nature teleological beings because we were made in the image of an intentional and purposeful God.  So, settling for survival is generally not enough for anyone.  Merely surviving feels like dying because our souls yearn for thriving.  When we are pasta spoons constantly immersing ourselves in salads, we feel in our fibers that something is wrong.  The deception is when we (or others) tell ourselves that we just have to try harder; greater efforts will make things right or lead to success.  Instead, trying harder often leads to greater frustration and a sense of guilt.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  The term for “workmanship” in the original Greek is poieima which means “craftsmanship” or “artistry.”  God’s purposeful intent with our lives follows the mindfulness of an artist who desires to express himself through human lives.  The discovery of our purpose is an endeavor of discovering God’s artistic process and passion.  How has God the author and artist designed you?  What is your sacred purpose in this life?  Maybe it’s time to stop being a pasta spoon trying to scoop salad.

(‘Telos’ means purpose.  Teleological means purposeful.)

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