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Frankl and the Meaning of Life

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Text Illustration shared by Josh Hunt, Sunday School Lessons And Bible Studies

March 2012
Category: Stories
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Josh Hunt

Sunday School Lessons and Bible Studies
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FRANKL AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

When Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in World War II and put in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, he was stripped of everything: property, family, possessions, and a manuscript he had spent years researching and writing on finding meaning in life. The manuscript had been sewn into the lining of his coat.

"Now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a spiritual child of my own," Frankl wrote. "I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning."

A few days later, the Nazis forced the prisoners to give up what little clothing they still wore. "I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber," said Frankl. "Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, which contained the Jewish prayer 'Shema Yisrael' (Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.)

"How should I have interpreted such a 'coincidence' other than as a challenge to 'live' my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?"

Frankl later reflected on his ordeal in Man's Search for Meaning, saying, "There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is meaning in one's life.... He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any 'how.' "

[Based on Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning (Pocket, 1997). Larson, C. B., & Ten Elshof, P. (2008). 1001 illustrations that connect (241). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.]

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