Viktor Frankl, born in 1905, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist with an M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Vienna, was taken by the Germans in October of 1944 to Auschwitz, transferred to the Kaufering Camp and, for the next five months, he writes, “I was not employed as a psychiatrist in camp, or even as a doctor, except for the last few weeks. … Most of the time I was digging and laying tracks for railway lines (Man’s Search for Meaning, p. 7).
Commenting on the impact camp life had on a man’s outlook on life, he writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude. … In the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. … If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete” (pages 66, 67).
Christians, too, have discovered that life has a way of surprising us with catastrophic days and nightmarish nights. Even to those, and at times it seems, especially to those, who are trying to live a godly life, things happen that pull us to a stop and demand that we determine what our living is all about.
I recall the conversation I had with a pastor friend of mine who had just returned from the hospital, trying to comfort one of his parishioners. The man had foolishly tried to restart a coal-fired furnace by dousing the embers with a cup of gasoline. It flamed and as he jerked back, he splashed some of the gasoline on his daughter standing nearby, burning her badly. How does a man recover from something like that?
Life is tough! Suffering is inevitable but what we do with it – that is what will define us. When I have failed, when I have made a foolish mistake, when life has turned into a nightmare, my attitude — in self-pity and bitterness or in acceptance and a determination to regain my stability — will have a decided influence on whether it leads to my downfall or whether I come through unselfish, forgiving, and more mature. The strength of character, the means of identifying with others who hurt, the maturity resulting from patience and self-discipline, are all such that none of us would ever truly grow up but for times of enormous stress.
I will grant that one need not be a Christian to mature through the catastrophes of life. But, as stated by the Apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Although I have found my faith is no cop-out from the crises of life, I am pleased to tell you from personal experience, Christianity works!