Suffering and Purpose

Updated: Jul 13, 2019

Dr. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist imprisoned at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. He watched his fellow prisoners and saw that, no matter the conditions, no matter the torture or special treatment men received during their time in the camps, some survived while others perished.

Frankl realized that men were able to tolerate their suffering if they were able to attach meaning to it.

After being liberated from the concentration camp, Frankl wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it he chronicles what he and his fellow prisoners endured:

Dostoevski said once, ‘There is only one thing I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’ These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs whose behavior in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful.”

In the face of a most devastating existence, these men lived and died well because they found meaning in their suffering.

Nietzsche writes, “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.”

When the Americans came and freed the camps, Frankl describes his liberation. As he walked down a country road with flowering meadows and singing larks, he was stunned by beauty and freedom.

He dropped to his knees and had only one sentence to proclaim, “I called to the Lord from my narrow prison, and He answered me in the freedom of space.”

I think about what Scott suffered in those 144 days, from the day they found the first tumor to the day he died. As hard as it was, Scott knew his purpose. He knew his reason for living and he embraced his purpose in death. He was able to endure the “how” of his death because he knew the “why.”

Scott called to his Lord in the narrow prison of disease and was answered in the freedom of Heaven.

If there is only one thing to dread, to not be worthy of your suffering, then perhaps it is time to reflect: What is the purpose in your pain?

What are you called to do, or be, through your suffering?

What is the meaning in your loss?

How can you be transformed through this pain?

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