SUFFERING CAN LEAD TO HAPPINESS
by John Parker, first published as The Pastor’s Commentary in the Chowchilla News August 4, 2015
The headline about him reads: “This Man Faced Unimaginable Suffering, And Then Wrote The Definitive Book About Happiness.” (Huffington Post, February 4, 2014)
The man, Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D., (1905-1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. Suffering provided his greatest credential for he survived three torturous, grueling years in Auschwitz, the most infamous of the Nazi death camps of World War II.
His “definitive book,” Man’s Search for Meaning, published in 1959, is about the power of meaning for overcoming life’s pressures, setbacks, and sufferings.
In the book he relates this story. “Once, an elderly general practitioner (family doctor) consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else.
“Now, how could I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?”
“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!”
“Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering-to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.”
“He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, Kindle, p.113)
Frankl quotes philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
This supports Frankl’s observation, “In the Nazi concentration camps, one could have witnessed that those who knew that there was a task waiting for them to fulfill were most apt to survive.”
Frankl continues, “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life. That is why man is even ready to suffer, on the condition, to be sure, that his suffering has a meaning.
“But let me make it perfectly clear that in no way is suffering necessary to find meaning. I only insist that meaning is possible even in spite of suffering-provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable.
“If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.” (Meaning p. 114)
It’s great to have a genuine sufferer, like Dr. Frankl, to advise us to turn unavoidable suffering into significant meaning. The following Bible verses also help us translate painful suffering into important meaning.
“God…comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)
“When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy…when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” (James 1:2–3)
“If we suffer, we shall also reign.” (2 Timothy 2:12)