Philosophy Lite: Finding meaning and purpose in life
June 3, 2011 at 1:03 a.m.
By Raymond Smith
From time immemorial man has pondered the riddle of his existence - at least those who cared enough to think about it. Blaise Pascal said that many think they can annihilate eternity by not thinking about it. One without a sense of meaning may live a wasted life or even create destruction.
Viktor Frankl was a M.D. and psychiatrist from Vienna who spent the war in a concentration camp. Though conditions there were atrocious and many died in the ordeal, he survived - and out of his experiences came two remarkable works:
1. A best seller, "Man's Search for Meaning."
2. A new approach to psychoanalysis, Logotherapy.
In his book, Frankl distinguishes several forms of neuroses and traces some of them to the failure of the sufferer to find meaning and a sense of responsibility in his existence. The book is well worth reading and provides valuable insights concerning prisoner behavior.
His Logotherapy idea is striking in that it abandons the traditional mode of analyzing one's guilt complexes, childhood experiences, and failures and looks instead to the future. If the patient can find meaning in life and establish some worthy goals, then the chances for success are greatly enhanced. Frankl said that Freud's system was "a will to pleasure," Adler's system was a "will to power," but his own system was a "will to meaning."
Most thoughtful people will find the idea of meaning associated with belief in God. There just doesn't seem to be any other logical explanation. Uncounted millions give testimony to their belief in God who gave them meaning for their existence, courage and a great hope.
The meaning of life then, must be to honor Him by the living of our lives and to prepare for the life to come. It must mean to learn the meaning of love. It must mean that we have a work to do serving others as Jesus served them. He certainly would expect us to grow in knowledge and wisdom. He would expect us to care for our bodies; to be fruitful and multiply. He expects us to learn to live together in peace and to be peacemakers.
The Christian religion meets man's deepest needs; it was doing valuable psychiatric work long before psychiatry was discovered. Although Christians themselves are not entirely immune to psychiatric problems, I would recommend a Christian counselor for all people whether Christian or not.
Elton Trueblood said, "a people who have a sense of meaning feel no conscious need of constantly being entertained or amused." One with a great sense of meaning can accomplish great things and might even dare to die for some cause. Think of Jesus on the cross - he took courage going through the ordeal because he knew the outcome was the grandest event in history.
Someone has said that the fact you are alive means your purpose is not yet fulfilled. If you have not the vision, He will give it, and give you strength for the journey.
Raymond F. Smith is a deacon at Fellowship Bible Church in Victoria and president of Strong Families of Victoria.