Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 12, 1962
NUMBER 10, PAGE 4,12b

The Search For Meaning

F. Y. T.

"What is man that thou art mindful of him?" was the plaintive cry of the Hebrew psalmist in days of old. From the very beginning of the race mankind has sought meaning, significance, point to his existence. He has searched the heavens for an answer; and he has plumbed the depths of his own soul. The noblest spirits of all ages have been the ones most keenly aware of man's need for something to live for and, if need be, to die for. There is an expanding new approach in modern psychiatry (logotherapy) which deals with this fundamental problem of the human soul. But, in reality, the psychiatrists are only discovering from their point of view what has been perfectly obvious to religious thinkers from time immemorial.... that a man with no sense of purpose in life is one who is lost, lost spiritually, and lost mentally. Adrift in a meaningless world, he is filled with a sense of futility and despair. Life to him is a sorry misadventure, a bootless, meaningless farce. The bard of Avon, with the insight of the true genius that he was, summed it all up and put it on the lips of one of his characters:

"Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, director of the Neurological Polyclinic of Vienna, a pioneer in psychiatry's new approach to the study of man's basic need, declares: "The striving to find a meaning in life is a primary motivational force in man." He further stated that a deep-seated neurosis, marked by depression, apathy, and a bleak, lonely sense of futility about living, is becoming increasingly widespread in the twentieth century, and particularly in America. This philosophy of despair seems to be definitely correlated to the industrialization of any society, the more highly industrialized the people, the more prevalent the incidence of neurotic and despairing individuals.

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry, stressed the "will to pleasure" as being man's greatest drive; his student and successor as the most eminent psychiatrist of his day, Alfred Adler, stressed man's "will to power" as being the dominant force of his life. But Frankl has probed an area he considers much more basic...the "will to meaning." George W. Cornell, religious writer for the Associated Press quotes Frankl as saying, "Actually, 'pleasure' is not the goal of human striving but rather a by-product of the fulfillment of such striving. And 'power' is not an end but a means to an end. Thus the 'pleasure principle' school mistakes a side effect for the goal, while the 'will to power' school mistakes a means for the end."

All of which simply adds up to the fact that as man is increasingly separated and alienated from God, he experiences feelings of guilt, despair, futility, and loneliness which lead him often quite literally to destroy himself. In contrast to this philosophy of despair....despair in the midst of luxurious opulence.... consider the attitude of one like the apostle Paul, beaten, starving, imprisoned, betrayed and forsaken by some whom he had counted as dear friends, yet with a life so pregnant with meaning and purpose that he could burst forth into a veritable song of radiant joy, as for example the Philippian letter, from the very depths of his prison cell!

What a contrast between the man whose life has "meaning" and the man whose life is without meaning! What a contrast between the man who lives for God, and the man who lives for self; between the man who lives for the things that are seen, and the one who lives "as seeing him who is invisible." To the one "life is but a narrow vale between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities," to the other, "life is hid with Christ in God," and its glories and beauties are not to be fully known until that great day when Christ shall return to claim his own.

As the ominous threat of a world holocaust hangs like a pall over the whole human race, we may well anticipate that mental derangements and disorders will greatly multiply. Man was not made to live under this sort of strain and tension. Yet, in the final analysis, a man dies but once; and every man knows that somewhere, somehow, sometime, he is to keep that appointment with death. He can either meet it in terror and despair; or he can welcome it with triumphant joy. The course he follows will be the one he has chosen for himself. Both ways are open; both are available to him. It is up to the individual himself whether he dies "in the blessed hope" or in the bleak despair of the damned.