Josh. 24:15 π Isa. 66:2 π Jer. 17:9 π Jer. 23:30 π Mt. 4:4 π Mt. 6:33 π Mt. 16:17 π Lk. 9:23-24 π Jn. 1:1 π Jn. 7:38 π Jn. 11:25 π Jn. 17:14-16 π Rom. 11:33 π Rom. 12:6-8 π 1 Cor. 10:21 π 2 Cor. 1:4 π 2 Cor. 3:17 π 2 Cor. 5:15 π 2 Cor. 7:1 π Eph. 2:10 π 2 Tim. 3:12 π Heb. 1:3 π Heb. 5:13-14 π Heb. 8:10-11 π 1 Pet. 4:4 π 1 Pet. 4:10-11 π 1 Pet. 4:19 π 1 Jn. 2:15 π 1 Jn. 2:27 π 1 Jn. 3:8 π 1 Jn. 4:8 π Rev. 9:21 π Rev. 13:17
To put the question [“What is the meaning of life?”] in general terms would be comparable to the question posed to a chess champion: “Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?” There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence. One should not search for an abstract meaning of life. Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” (Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 1959, 1984, p. 131)
Frankl is, essentially, an existential humanist with a very vivid, deeply accurate grasp on the picture of human existence, in large part because of his survival of the death camps of Auschwitz and Dauchau during WWII. Yet his views, (clinically termed “logotherapy” from the Greek word logos which can also be interpreted as meaning), being anchored solely in the human side of mankind’s actions (whether toward, away, completely apart from or indifferent to God or even all ideas of God does not matter much in logotherapy or existentialism), must always come up short of the divine revelation that God has given in Christ Jesus, the God-Man. With this caveat (that Frankl and logotherapy is focused on only “one side of the equation”), let us glean what we can from his excellent insights into the inner workings of that created being called “man.”
Logotherapy quite rightly holds that there are three main avenues to discovering the meaning of life:
- creating a work or doing a deed;
- experiencing something or encountering someone; and
- by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. (ibid., p. 133)
It is here that we can also see many different kinds of people in different places in life.
The first are those who find true meaning in the work that they do, at home, “on the job,” paid, volunteer or whatever. Blessed indeed are those whose job or work coincides with the “good works which God prepared beforehand that [they] should walk in them.” ( Eph. 2:10 ) The only spiritual question these people have to answer is whether their work is wholly for God or for themselves ( 2 Cor. 5:15 ) or some subtle mixture of pleasing both God and self for different reasons from which these must purify themselves. ( 2 Cor. 7:1; top ) If the story could end there for all people, we might have a nearly perfect world.
But, in modern life, there are at least two factors at work that place this group into a dwindling minority. The first factor is what Frankl and other logotherapy therapists term “the existential vacuum.” Strikingly similar in nature and character to what Christians call “fallen,” Frankl describes this state as one in which “No instinct tells [man] what he has to do [to survive and thrive], and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do.” (ibid, p. 128) This is the essence of fallen man – separated from God, he has no inner, infallible voice by which to direct his life, merely human traditions must always fail to reach divine levels and man, apart and adrift from the divine purposes and unchanging nature of God, vacillates as to what he wants to do as he becomes different things at different times in his life.
The second factor that can rob this first group of being able to find true meaning in the work they do comes into play when one begins to discover that the everyday work world has long since been hijacked and co-opted so that one must literally sell one’s soul and sacrifice much of what makes life precious just to keep one’s job or career. Long ago, big business leaders and financial tycoons “rigged the game” so as to keep their own assets safe and secure, especially from new up and comers who might provide just a little too much competition. Business executives and “investors” enjoy disproportionate lucrative incomes by riding on the backs and picking the pockets of average common workers, and then hide their assets away in corporations and foundations that not even the government can legally take from them.
Thus the average common worker’s job and income barely meets one’s financial requirements (especially if the deceptive lure of consumerism, the other side of big business’ schemes against and monopoly over financial freedom, is not overcome) while it simultaneously “feeds the machines” of both big business and government. If you work for someone else, a significant portion of what you produce and earn adds to the wealth of someone else – and if you pay rent or even a mortgage for your home, you are making even more significant contributions to someone else’s wealth. It has become a fact that one’s work in the existing financial environment contributes directly to other people’s greed, covetousness and discontent as well as to the government’s ability to do as it wishes, whether for good or evil.
How can one who sees what the “other part” of his efforts and income accomplishes find meaning in such work? Only by direct revelation that God has indeed called that individual to walk in that part of the world for this particular time and season while he maintains due vigilance that he is not subtly corrupted and ensnared so that he truly becomes of and not just in the world. ( Jn. 17:14-16 ) Those who have not yet received such a revelation but who yet desire to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness ( Mt. 6:33 ) will likely find themselves on a hard and daunting road, especially in the face of the coming Satanic control over all forms of commerce ( Rev. 13:17 ) and in view of the fact that those who live godly lives in Christ Jesus always stand as a direct challenge and rebuke to those who love the world or who live their lives under the control of the devil and the demonic ( 1 Jn. 2:15 , 3:8 , etc.) and we will always incur their wrath and hatred. ( 1 Pet. 4:4 , 2 Tim. 3:12 , etc.; top) This road is made all the more harder by well-meaning “brothers and sisters,” in truth “Job’s comforters,” who tell other believers that they need only find themselves a “tent-making profession” (often all they really mean is “get a job!”) But these “friends” don’t seem able to recognize the larger, unseen forces that lure or compel most people (including themselves!) to buy all their “tents” from Walmart! Times have changed (at least economically) and yesterday’s manna, simply does not and will not ever provide today’s meaning for life.
The second group according to logotherapy (those who find meaning in life by mans of some outside “chance” event or encounter with another person), find meaning in their life when that event or relationship enables the individual to transcend (rather than gratify) himself and to do that which is truly best for that other person. Thus logotherapy draws on another singularly Christian trait – love – to uphold it, seeming unaware that humans apart from God (who is love – 1 Jn. 4:8; top ) cannot practice perfected, divine-like love except in tainted (fallen) imitations and reflective glimmers of that crowning jewel for which man was created.
Frankl elaborates on this by saying, “The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something – such as goodness, truth and beauty – by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness – by loving him.” (p. 133-134) Again, if the story could stop here for all people, we would be near a perfect world.
However, as was already stated, we don’t love selflessly until we are grown and trained to it and this by God. And this growing and training – of which encountering goodness, truth and beauty and being confronted with the needs of others is the manner in which God has been acquainting us with attributes of (or, at least, introductions to) Himself – is very readily and quite often shrugged off and ignored. And particularly when our “love” for another is subtly based in one’s self and its own hidden inner deficiencies, there is the tendency to become “shaken from one’s moorings” when that event is completed or that person leaves or dies. In fact, the pain and anguish part of grief, whether over personal loss or over the loss of a loved one, is often largely the purgings of one’s own self-centered attachments – and even here self must be transcended or one can drown in one’s own grief.
The third avenue to finding meaning in life is by our attitude toward unavoidable suffering. Note well too the unavoidableness of the suffering. As Frankl also says, “To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” (ibid., p. 136) Mindlessly volunteering for suffering – which is quite different from deliberately choosing to suffer to attain to some worthwhile purpose – is only an expression of self, perhaps even of its own psychoses and neuroses!
A headache or cold (though not always trivial in themselves) may provide a trivial example from which we can compare all our decisions. The true follower of Christ who knows that in the New Testament drugs, even medicinal drugs, are linked with Satanic practices (Greek, pharmakai, NKJV “sorceries” – Rev. 9:21 ) and that doctors do not practice divine healing but rather use a combination of human reason and science that is rooted in paganism (much like today’s “church”!), has to choose the source wherein he will seek for health and healing. If he has allowed himself to come under a legalistic interpretation (the “no doctors, no drugs, period” “Christian” law is readily found in many “Christian” circles nowadays), he then chooses to suffer the pains of the cold or headache if God does not miraculously heal him. Added to his pain is the disturbing question of “Why didn’t God just heal me?” Then “Job’s comforters” come on the scene to accuse the man of being in sin or of having inadequate faith! But the one who by reason of use has his senses developed to seek out and find what is right in God’s eyes (and this is no mere intellectual “research project” through the pages of the New Testament! – Heb. 5:13-14 ), may find that God grants him liberty (as He often does – 2 Cor. 3:17; top ) to relieve his suffering through medicine or doctor’s care when, for His own perhaps unrevealed purposes, He does not choose to immediately heal. The one who instantly turns to medicines and doctors rather than first to God is shrugging off the process whereby God is training their spiritual senses to know His will – a state of existence far more damaging than a cold or a headache!
But this is the responsibility – another factor logotherapy rightly stresses – that is upon the individual: to choose whatever avenue one wishes to go upon. Those who passively wait upon God to prove Himself as God are most likely shirking some responsibility of their own as He is quite likely simply waiting for them to choose what they wish to be in life! God’s people have always been confronted with the choice of which gods they are going to serve. ( Josh. 24:15 , 1 Cor. 10:21 , etc.; top)
One observation the genuine follower of Christ who searches for the meaning of his life can make is that the meaning of one’s life is not to be found only in one category but in all three at various times in his life. God does gift and call each one in various ways ( Rom. 12:6-8 , 1 Pet. 4:10-11 , etc.) and this is to flow from the depths of one’s innermost being. ( Jn. 7:38 ) Thus, one’s life’s work should simultaneously establish one’s personal responsibility, provide personal fulfillment and spiritual satisfaction and accomplish God’s will. Those who are not finding this meaning of life in their work should seek God for insight and discernment regarding the source of any lack or discontent in one’s work. Equally, one’s life with and service to one’s spouse and/or children should be second only to one’s relationship with God and this too should simultaneously demonstrate the individual’s personal responsibility, provide personal fulfillment and spiritual satisfaction and accomplish God’s will. Again, any lack should drive us to God who alone can point us to the appropriate remedy. And, in their seasons, our sufferings should also simultaneously draw out our personal responsibility for our life, render invaluable service in maturing us beyond where a pain-free life can take us and thus accomplish yet another aspect of God’s will in our own lives ( 1 Pet. 4:19 ) and equip us and enable us to render comfort to others who suffer similar things. ( 2 Cor. 1:4; top )
Frankl offers what may be the deepest solution to the question of the meaning of life when he writes, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life…” (ibid, p. 131) In true spiritual discipleship in Christ, we could draw some parallel conclusions:
- Let us not ask ourselves for insight into the meaning of lives at any particular moment or in any particular vein. We must ask God and trust in whatever answer(s) He does or does not give us in the moment. To ask ourselves “What is the meaning of life?” is folly similar to asking ourselves “What would Jesus do?”? The God of the transcendent and unexpected and impossible is simply beyond our ability to analyze, understand and predict. ( Rom. 11:33 ) Self is simply not able to answer these questions. Flesh and blood cannot reveal it to us but only our Father who is in heaven. ( Mt. 16:17; top )
- Let us not turn to other men. Man was created to live by relying on what came from the mouth of God ( Mt. 4:4 ) and not from the mouths of men. God does not intend for us to rely on teachers to “feed” us but rather that we should mature and feed ourselves. ( 1 Jn. 2:27 , Heb. 8:10-11 , etc.) God has always opposed those who take their “words of the Lord” from each other ( Jer. 23:30 ) even as He has always looked with grace and favor on those who are humble and contrite, fearfully respecting His word lest they misunderstand or misapply what He has said. ( Isa. 66:2; top )
- Let us turn to God. Jesus is the Logos ( Jn. 1:1 ) who is the Word, the Meaning, the “express and exact likeness of God in human flesh.” ( Heb. 1:3 ) Just as a telescope requires a focal lens to view the distant stars, so too does Jesus provide us with the means to bring into finite resolution the infinite God of love, beauty, truth and goodness. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. ( Jn. 11:25; top ) Wise men still seek Him who is the Meaning of Life!
Frankl’s logotherapy stresses one other aspect that is absolutely critical to attaining life. He writes:
By declaring that man is responsible and must actualize the potential meaning of his life, I wish to stress that the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as though it were a closed system. I have termed this constitutive characteristic ‘the self-transcendence of human existence…’ The more one forgets himself by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.” (ibid., p. 133)
Once again, logotherapy utilizes another attribute of genuine Christian discipleship. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” ( Lk. 9:23-24 ) But logotherapy, and especially its existential psychotherapy counterpart, suffers to the extent that this supposed “self-transcendence,” wherever it subtly draws the human soul away from God, actually lures the soul back into pleasing self. Thus, one’s good work or deep relationship will slowly devolve into meaninglessness and emptiness even if all the outward earmarks of apparent success abound. Only a work that truly draws all men toward Christ and God is a work of God and only this work will provide deep-down satisfaction. As Augustine said so well, “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” (Confessions, Bk. 1, c. 1) God is faithful – any work that is subtly grounded in something other than Himself He will expose in time to those who truly desire to follow after only Him. So while the transcendence of self is a genuinely necessary component to becoming a whole human being, only that transcendence which is genuinely grounded in God will result in a complete transcendence of self. The human heart remains utterly wrecked and deceitful and none can fully know its motives and secrets apart from the illuminating light of Christ and God. ( Jer. 17:9; top )
As we grapple with our questioning of the meaning of our life, there are some foundational questions we need to ask:
- Is our need to see some meaning in our life realistic or inflated? That is, are we seeking an egotistic or self-centered greatness or significance in the eyes of others or are we simply seeking to fulfill God’s purpose and plan for our life?
- Is our quest for meaning on track or misguided? Have we allowed our culture’s or our extended family’s or our neighbor’s or our friends’ standards of living dictate how we should live rather than seeking how (and where!) God would have us live? Is our work or relationships based in whole or in part on what this thing does for me or do we seek to be God’s servant in the context of our work and relationships?
- If we are in a season of suffering, are we at rest with God’s work in us at the moment? That is, if we are struggling with some sort of pain or distress, are we seeking Him first and foremost to discover first His purpose and then our remedy? Or are we striving and seeking every possible human remedy first?
The meaning of our life is not found within ourselves – that is merely psychobabble, confusion and misdirection. Nor is it entirely found in how we handle the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The true meaning of life will always and only be found somehow to be in Him who is Meaning and Life.
Let he who has ears hear.
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