Have you ever considered why the world seems so obsessed with accumulating wealth, material possessions and power? Consider the crazy feeding frenzy that is Black Friday, for instance. And many of those who are not materialistic seem to be filling the void within with food, drugs, alcohol or serial relationships. What is this hole in our soul that we’re so determined to fill or hide?
Victor Frankl – Logotherapy
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist whose experience in the Nazi extermination camps of Auschwitz and Dachau inspired his philosophy and treatment modality, Logotherapy – a form of existential analysis.
His experience in the concentration camps showed him that only those prisoners who had meaning and purpose in their lives found the will and determination to survive. Those who believed something along the lines of the philosopher Sartre’s statement that “we have to shoulder heroically the absolute meaninglessness of our lives”, either committed suicide or succumbed to the many diseases that were rampant in the camps.
After his release and the ensuing decades when he treated and taught thousands his logotherapy approach, he realized that modern man suffered within the tragic triad of existence consisting of pain, guilt and death. This caused him to describe the “Mass Neurotic Triad” in which pain and guilt express themselves – depression, aggression and addiction.
“The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Even more people today have the means to live but no meaning to live for.”
(Viktor Frankl, Unheard Cry)
Despair = Suffering – Meaning
The Mass Neurotic Triad – Despair can be expressed as a mathematical equation:
D = S – M
(Despair = Suffering – Meaning)
Without meaning, suffering will inevitably lead to despair, manifesting as depression, aggression, addiction or a combination of these afflictions. Society also struggles collectively when individuals within that society lack meaning. The “existential vacuum” in which people find themselves leaves them in a position where “he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism).” According to Frankl, meaning has to be found within the boundaries of freedom and responsibility. Our only freedom lies within our ability to choose. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” But this freedom isn’t self-serving – it contains responsibility: “Human freedom is not a freedom from but a freedom to.” And for Frankl, the highest human meaning and achievement is love. “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
Paul: Meaning = Love
This understanding is an echo of the Apostle Paul’s instruction in Gal 5:13-14: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yet, to love in a real and unconditional way is not humanly possible. It is only possible through surrender to God who then, by grace, gives us love as a fruit of His Spirit. Meaning can only be interpreted in the context of this process of surrender. This is our ultimate choice – to surrender to God in order to live a life of meaning, peace and happiness. We can do this boldly and confidently since we have thousands of promises in God’s word that He will be with us and guide us once we open the door to his knocking. Ellen White articulated it this way:
“The sum of life is composed of resolutions made and resolutions broken. What you all need is to die to self, cease clinging to self, and surrender to God… In trusting faith commit the keeping of your souls to God as unto a faithful Creator. Be not continually in fear and apprehension that God will leave you. He never will unless you depart from Him. Christ will come in and dwell with you if you will open the door of your hearts to Him. There may be perfect harmony between you and the Father and His Son if you will die to self and live unto God. “3 T p 542.3
Victor Frankl: Meaning of Life
And from his understanding, Viktor Frankl reiterated this: “This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man… What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms.” And “I am convinced that in the final analysis, there is no situation that does not contain within it the seed of a meaning.”
God has given us His unconditional love and meaning in every situation we find ourselves. As Frankl states, we will never be able to grasp this incredible gift of grace. But understanding is not a prerequisite for claiming it…After all, Jesus promised us the peace that passes all understanding. We’re only called to surrender our selves in order to access this incredible well of meaning.
So in the final analysis, a change of attitude or perspective is required. Frankl saw it this way: “We [need] to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who [are] being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” and “When we are no longer able to change a situation… we are challenged to change ourselves.”
As Christians, we have the ultimate added assurance that we do not need to do this by our own power… In fact, we are entirely unable to. But we have access to the power that created the heavens and the earth if we choose. So how do we live a meaningful life? It’s not difficult. God’s answer is found in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”