Viktor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz and three other concentration camps – wrote Man’s Search for Meaning in space of 9 days in 1945, 1st part biography, 2nd part theory. First published in German in 1946, English in 1959—since published in twenty-three other languages. By 1992 the English editions alone had sold more than three million copies. Asked about bestseller status, Frankl responded:
“..in the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.”
“The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. …Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.”
Quest still goes on. Google “search for meaning”: 22,800,000 hits; on Amazon, roughly 5,000 books listed under the Self-Esteem (1000+ on CBD); book titles include phrase: “meaning in life”, ‘meaning in marriage”, “meaning to our jobs”. So, if it’s that important and are that many options, what are we to do? The search for help with the search overwhelming in itself! Viktor Frankl’s answer:
“man is ultimately self determining. What he becomes—within the limits of endowment and environment—he has made out of himself.”
Picture telling that to Job – no family, no possessions, no helpful wife, no real friends, no health, no communication from God. He feels, looks and smells disgusting, and he’s supposed to make something out of himself? Life seemed to have meaning, then tragedy struck: how should Job interpret his experience, his circumstances? Where should Job direct search for meaning? And how about you, family members, friends who struggle with same questions?
Frankl’s book described as “profoundly religious”, yet God only mentioned 4x by name. Let’s look instead at Job, a “profoundly religious” and very real man, see where Job searched for meaning and what he discovered. Job began with human experience but didn’t limit his search to only what he could see with physical eyes.
A. life is short v.1-6
three basic statements about man – certainly not optimistic view of human existence! goes downhill from birth – from the womb to the tomb with only hardship between (1)
born of woman – frail and finite; surviving birth not a given, for either mother or child; clear boundaries, definite beginning and ending for those who do survive
of few days – perspective matters: from our vantage point, Methusaleh incredibly old; compared to eternity, he was just getting started, Job and his friends just kids
full of trouble – “man’s life on earth not merely sprinkled with trouble, but saturated with it.” Robinson
Gen. 4:8while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Gen. 47:9Jacob said to Pharaoh, “My pilgrimage has lasted 130 years. My years have been few and hard.”
not just that days are few, they pass quickly – all know that from experience: how often do you run out of time to finish task, project, book or conversation (2)
like a flower – are some plants, seem like stay in bloom all summer, always have blossoms whenever you look at them; now, tie thread around stem on one bud, see how quickly it opens and fades and falls to the ground
like a shadow – has no substance of its own, depends on other things for its very existence, has no power to act on its own; take away object or source of light, shadow disappears
given frailty and shortness of life, does it make sense for God to act in judgment in this life (3-4)
especially true for the righteous; seems reasonable for God to be less severe, show compassion, not kick someone when they’re already down for the count
besides, nobody’s perfect; not making excuses, just recognizing man’s sinful condition
how in the world can suffering purify someone? inconceivable how pain and hardship and sorrow could remove impurities from one like Job
since God knows all things, has set immoveable boundaries on every person’s life, wait till the end for judgment (5-6)
life is by design (since the Fall and curse) hard enough without God adding to its troubles – have righteous, not wicked, in view
if life is like this, where’s the meaning? since God doesn’t act according to man’s plans, and, in Job’s case wasn’t speaking, how could there possibly be meaning and significance to life?
since didn’t appear to be way to find meaning in life, perhaps significance comes in death
B. death is certain v.7-12
can see the emotional roller coaster coming – hope battles despair for mastery, neither one winning the contest
is man perhaps like a tree? – tree gets old, unproductive, damaged or in the way, cut it down, sprouts from the stump (7-9)
so long as roots are strong and healthy, can push up another sprout (sometimes several) that eventually equal original tree
would God think less of man than he does of a tree? there’s hope for the tree, perhaps for man also
so long as man has hope, can endure much, can achieve much; hope keeps POW’s alive, take it away and usually die
but is there hope for man in death? if unlike the tree, death truly is the end of life, time and sunlight and water won’t bring the dead back to life (10-12)
been a significant years-long drought on West Coast of US; dramatic photos, some from satellites show effect of no rain on lakes and rivers
lake bottoms dried out and cracked; islands left high and dry; docks hundreds of feet from nearest water; enough water left to park the boat but not enough to really use it
permanently cut off supply of water and lake will die; same is true of man, with no hope of reviving him
if death is like this, where’s the meaning? if death is end of existence with no hope of future life, how can there be meaning or significance in death?
is current saying right? “Life stinks, then you die.” If that’s true, then how you die isn’t important either
if Frankl is right: suffering has no meaning, and if life can provide no significance, and if death gives no meaning to life and has no meaning of its own, what then? is it too much to hope for something significant after death?
C. death isn’t the end, maybe v.13-17
is there hope for meaning, eventually? if there is, can at least die happy; take me now!!
doesn’t really matter what is in between now and then so long as includes protection from God’s anger
“If a man dies, shall he live again?” – you better get the answer to this one right; if Job is right about life and death, this is last chance for any hope at all
just as important as whether man will live again – what kind of life will it be? better get that answer right, too
Job ready to believe in another life, almost hoping against hope just so he can keep going
there’s necessary condition: life after death only offers hope if sin is taken care of – sealed up in a bag and buried
if transgressions get carried into next life, no real hope there either; must be addressed in this life
D. does it have to be this hard v.18-22
can there be no meaning, no hope, no purpose in suffering? (see v.19)
glimpses of hope, perhaps of significance in some aspects of this life, but unless God speaks, are just that: glimpses and not the reality
oppressive suffering and silence steal the life from hope – circumstances overwhelm attempts to make sense of suffering, especially when it appears endless
hopelessness a recurring theme in first half of Job – see Job 7:6; Job 17:15; Job 19:10
Job’s dilemma – the only one who can give hope is one who seems to be taking it away, without explanation and for no reason Job can figure out
Job, looking around at his circumstances, his destroyed health and business and family and relationships – in depths of despair. Made incredibly more difficult because lacked word from God. Would get a glimpse of some hope, up the roller coaster, then lose sight of it in midst of his circumstances, down the roller coaster. Each time the highs seem a little higher, lows not quite so low as Job learns more about himself and importance of right and open relationship with God.
Job’s understanding from special revelation limited; he considered primarily natural revelation, that plus oral tradition all he had. But here’s why Job is commended – not his patience as we understand patience, because he persevered. In spite of all he experienced, he never gave up on God, never looked anywhere other than God for his hope, his help, his answers.
We have benefit of all the Bible, including Jesus’ answer to Job’s question in v.14
John 11:25-26Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Let’s put that in Job’s words: if you die, will you live again? Do you base your answer on what the world says or what Jesus said? World says “nice guys go to heaven”, or, “it’s karma – do more good than bad, next life will be better”. Jesus said “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die”. That means believing Jesus was exactly who he said he was, that Jesus died for the sins of those who believe in him, that Jesus is the only one who can forgive your sin and make you acceptable to God. If that is true of you, then you will live again; there is meaning in life and death and the next life for you.
If that is not true of you, there’s no time like the present to repent of your sin; turn from your life of doing what you want. Come to Christ with your questions, your hurts, everything you’ve been dragging around with you. If you come to Jesus sincerely, seeking his help and forgiveness, he will receive you. He will give you new life and a hope for the future.
Now, what if Job came to church? How would you respond? How would you answer his questions? Perhaps Job is seated next to you; maybe it’s Mrs. Job, with questions of her own that match her husband’s in depth. We have the goods: God’s full and final revelation to us in his Word. God alone can provide true significance and meaning in suffering. He’s given a few answers in his Word; he’s also revealed himself to us even more fully than to Job. We look back at the cross, the one who gave himself for us that by his unspeakable suffering we might have life.
For family, friends, neighbors, co-workers who don’t come to church but are suffering, searching for significance and meaning: answer is the same – Jesus is the one who can meet their need. Give them the greatest gift anyone ever could: introduce them to Jesus. Communicate to them the truth of the Gospel, the good news, that there is hope in Jesus Christ.
what gets you to the other end of the roller coaster? What is your hope built on? Jesus’ blood and righteousness?