Sunday, July 23, 2017

Meaning, Not Reasons

God sent me a birthday present the other day. Through Amazon. 

Okay, Amazon sent me an email that a book on my wish list was on sale for $1.99. Now, I had no intention of buying any books, because I am currently using that list to figure out want to read next from the library. I'm only buying books if I've read them and then want to refer back to them or read them again. Normally I don't even open emails when Amazon gives me a notice of a sale, but this time I did, and the book was "Man's Search for Meaning", by Viktor Frankl. Now that is a book that I've heard a lot about, and I had a few bucks left from a gift card, so what are you going to do?

I don't want to trivialize God's work in our lives by attributing divine sources to human actions, so please don't take it that way. Some powers that be at Amazon put the book on sale, and I decided to buy it. However, there are times where those ordinary actions come together to touch our lives in big ways, ways that feel very much like God's providential will. There are things in that book that reach out and directly touch the cries of my heart. Yes, Frankl wrote the book, but God has used that book to speak to me this weekend, as He has used in in the lives of millions since it was written.

I have to tell you, there have been a lot of times in recent years that when someone tells me something that God's doing in their lives, I try not to roll my eyes. I try to keep my jaded, cynical thoughts to myself. It's not that I don't believe on some level that He is at work in some of these small things, but I haven't been able to see Him or feel Him much myself, so it's hard not to dismiss what's being said. Especially when people use these things to prove the pet theory of "everything happens for a reason."  That's not  completely untrue in a way, but we often use it in a prosperity gospel context of "all these bad/hard things happened so that all these good things could happen." Used in this way, it can be launched into the lap of someone suffering and go off with the force of a spiritual hand grenade. Really, all that person needed was someone willing to be with them in their suffering. Coming at the wrong time or from the wrong person, it can be devastating.

Frankl says some things that almost echo that thought, but it sounds so different coming from someone who was facing loss of life, loss of family and friends, loss of personhood, loss of possessions and livelihood, really loss of everything in the abject cruelty of the concentration camps. He is not talking about all the reasons for these things happening (important to note that sin and people are the reasons for the concentration camps, NOT God). These things didn't happen in order for meaning to be found, or so that good could come out of them, but in a way, it's more like the reasons don't matter at all in order for us to find meaning in suffering. 

But enough from me, how about some quotes?

~Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.

~Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except for one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

~Dostoevski said once, "There is only one thing that I dread: Not to be worthy of my sufferings"... It can be said that [the martyrs in the camps] were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom- which cannot be taken away- that makes life meaningful and purposeful.

In trying to keep other prisoners from killing themselves, they had to learn, ~it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.*

~When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.

In the last part that I just read, Frankl tells a story where he had an opportunity to speak to an entire hut full of his fellow prisoners at the camp and helped them to find the meaning of their suffering in that moment. The thing is, many of them didn't have time beyond that moment. Their suffering wasn't going to lead to anything but death in the gas chamber, or from typhoid or from any number of other things. It wasn't going to lead to all things being restored to them and a new life from the ashes, at least not in this life. Sometimes suffering does directly lead us to things that we have most wanted in life, but sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes there is nothing that fixes the suffering. No matter what, that suffering can have meaning and worth.

*Italics in the original.

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