Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) "Dad, why do we say 'good God'?"

As the years go by and the horror of the Holocaust is left behind, the reading of Man's Search for Meaning is decisive for many young people in our society who are looking for meaning in their lives. It can be said that it is a book that is becoming more topical every day.

Graciela Jatib and Jaime Nubiola-June 21, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes
A child's hand touching the barbed wire of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Viktor Frankl, the founder of the speech therapyis a great referent of 20th century psychology. His life is marked by experiences of incomprehensible designs, but full of a conviction and a shocking force. Perhaps this is why he leaves us traces that inspire and move us. In his work Man in search of meaning (Herder, Barcelona, 2018, 3rd ed.) recounts a colorful dialogue with his little daughter - barely 6 years old - that points to an ongoing problematic in both philosophy and the teaching of religion. The little girl asks him: "Dad, why do we say 'good God'?". The answer seems blunt, but it is not: "A few weeks ago you had measles and the good Lord cured you." I answered. The girl was not satisfied and replied: "Yes, Dad, but don't forget he sent it to me first." (p. 146). This naive approach is a good example of the question that has always raised questions for human beings: the presence of evil in the world, which seems antagonistic to the idea of a God who loves and cares for his creatures. "Let no one lower to tears or reproach / this declaration of the mastery / of God, who with magnificent irony / gave me both the books and the night."Jorge Luis Borges will say -perhaps with sarcasm before the reality of his blindness- in his Poema de los dones.

Frankl acknowledges a long existential nihilism in his youth and having suffered heartbreaking declines within weeks of entering Auschwitz. He also had a strong anguish a few months after his liberation in April 1945: the concentration camps had made him lose his capacity for happiness. 

One of his most inspiring passages is the one in which he recounts, shortly after his liberation, a walk through a flowery field, a beautiful natural landscape and the freedom so longed for. A freedom undermined by the record of indignity and loss to which he was subjected, the death of his parents and his pregnant wife, the perverse destruction of his work in the Lager... Now, "there was no one to be seen for miles around, there was nothing but sky and earth and the joy of larks, the freedom of space. I stopped, looked around me, then at the sky, and fell to my knees. At that moment I knew very little of myself and the world, I had but a single sentence in my head: 'In anguish I cried out to the Lord and He answered me from space in freedom.' I do not remember." -concludes- "How long I remained there, repeating my prayer. But I am sure that on that day, in that instant, my life began again. I went forward, little by little, until I became a human being again". (p. 119).

Frankl's task in this impressive book is to show a way of salvation that is possible after having gone through the hell of the camps and having suffered extreme fatigue, hunger, dirt, disease, mistreatment of all kinds; in spite of everything, one can rise from hope towards a life that finds us again with a deep meaning to decipher; in opposition to the atheistic existentialism of Sartre, for whom man invents himself and creates his meaning, Frankl will express: "I affirm, on the other hand, that man does not invent the meaning of his life, but discovers it." (p. 128). It is perhaps for this reason that "man should not question himself about the meaning of life, but understand that he is the one whom life questions". (p. 137). Because the human being is animated by "a will to meaning"The same one that allowed Viktor Frankl to wander through the concentration camps without losing a shred of dignity.

We read in the Gospel of John: "Do you not know that I have authority to crucify you as well as to set you free? Then Jesus answered him, "You would have no authority over me, if God had not permitted you to do so." (Jn 19:10-11). These blessed words open up crucial questions about the presence of evil in people's lives.

We have found a trace of the path that leads to the truth in the words of Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1980) and friend of Pope Francis, who in his work Resisting in hope (2011) recounts the discovery of a large bloodstain on the walls of the prison where he was subjected to aggression and torture; with that same blood the prisoner had written "God does not kill".. This expression filled him with grief when he realized that someone had had the capacity to write this with his own blood and in the midst of the purest desperation. Esquivel considers it as a cry of humanity: "God does not kill".in the context in which it was written, "it is one of the greatest acts of faith I know.".

The shocking presence of evil has shown its starkest face at crucial moments in history, such as wars or totalitarianisms that subjugated the dignity of human beings, curtailing their individual and collective freedoms. "History." -writes Frankl- "gave us the possibility of knowing human nature perhaps like no other generation. What, in fact, is man?" (p. 115), and will conclude the book with this impressive response: "Man is that being capable of inventing the gas chambers of Auschwitz, but he is also the being who has entered those same chambers with his head erect and the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Israel on his lips." (p. 160). 

The reading of Man in search of meaning continues to leave its mark on all those who approach this book because it radically shows us the depth of being human.

The authorGraciela Jatib and Jaime Nubiola

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