Some terrible stories of suffering and persecution came out of the Second World War. Some are so horrific that they are best left alone. But one story I have seen time and time again to emerge is that of one man who made a difference to millions because of his suffering as a prisoner in the Holocaust.
Viktor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist and author, and was locked up and survived Auschwitz, the notorious death camp where thousands, if not millions, perished. He died in 1997 aged 92, and his books have sold millions of copies.
In the camp, he watched the misery of suffering and despair. Many just gave up and died under the pressure—they had no hope. He kept thinking of his wife, and that, he said, kept him going. One prisoner kept going because he had a special-needs child back home. He had to survive for her. Another was in love with a young lady, and he wanted to survive to get out and marry her. Viktor Frankl did survive and he went on to write about hope—how to cling on to hope. He wrote these words:
There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning to one’s life. Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Hope Is a Spiritual Thing
Why would someone who is literally starving to death give away his last piece of bread? That is a profound question. In his first book Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr Frankl wrestled with the hopelessness that seemed almost inevitable for those imprisoned in the concentration camps. Only one in 28 prisoners would survive the camps. Life was almost unbearable. Prisoners would reach the point, he says, where they would say, I have nothing to expect from life anymore.
Dr Frankl said at that point there was only one thing that could help. He writes:
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, teach the despairing [prisoners], that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct.
Joan Chittister says: “Hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside of us to get better. It is about getting better inside about what is going on outside.”
Hope is a spiritual thing. We do not hope because things look hopeful but because we have experienced God’s love poured into our hearts and trust that this same love poured into our world will make possible a world of justice, inclusion, fulfilment and peace. There is an inspiring prayer in the New Testament: “God our Father loves us. He is kind and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope”. (2 Thessalonians 2:16)
In the Scriptures, the word ‘hope’ is used over 200 times. In the Scriptures, as you begin to pull out and see how the word hope is used throughout the Bible, it can be summarised around something like, “Hope means a confident expectation in the future.” It means a contagious enthusiasm for what will come. The idea of hope is that you’re looking forward to the future with enthusiasm, with confidence, with expectation, that there is blessing on the other end of this. Hope is a good thing.
Maybe you’re dealing with a chronic illness, a long period of unemployment, a broken relationship. No matter how hopeless the situation seems, choose to believe that God can still change it if he chooses to do so. Put your hope in God today, and expect him to do something amazing!