I often get caught up in the details of a project or an argument or life. In those moments, I often lose sight of the more important things. I’m so stuck in the how that I lose sight of the why. I get so rutted in a single way of thinking that it doesn’t even occur to me to step back and see the bigger issues, the bigger picture.
A feeling of meaninglessness arises when I can’t answer the questions of why and identify my source (the cause or origin) and purpose (the end or telos). If I can’t figure out what started it or what’s going to come out of my present place, I feel directionless. I have no bearing, no compass heading, no points of reference. But when I can see my source and purpose, it’s like knowing north and south. With those points in view, I can veer off course or off on tangents and still head in the right direction. I’m imagining it like Frodo on his journey: He always saw Mt Doom bellowing black smoke and it kept him headed in that direction. But that’s a rather dreary destination.
Yet beyond Mt Doom, maybe Frodo (and Sam certainly) saw the Shire again, and maybe that was Frodo’s real teleology (purpose) beyond Mt Doom. Sometimes you have to go farther from home in order to return again.
I’m deep in the middle of a project at work (4 months in), but I haven’t really lost sight I wouldn’t say. That’s not the reason I’m writing this, although it might seem like it is. Instead, this project talks a lot about the end—like the end of the world, not just the project. But most of it is concerned with how the world’s going to end. And so I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I don’t really like the how.
It’s easy to get caught up in the details about how it’s going to end, but I think that maybe misses the point a bit. No matter how it ends—indeed, more than knowing how it ends—I need to know why. How it ends won’t affect much how I live today, but knowing why might. Christians certainly want to talk about how so they can count the days or know the hour, but that’s all foolishness. Even Jesus didn’t know. But knowing why helps me get my bearings. Knowing how is certainly a curiosity and an interest, but knowing why gives it purpose and meaning. Without the why, the how doesn’t matter. I think someone once said, “When we know the why, we can endure almost any how.”
We often ask, “So how does the story end?” But maybe a better is “Why does the story end?” And also, “what happens after that?”