Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist of Jewish descent who spent two-and-a-half years as a prisoner in 4 Nazi concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz. In his book, Man's Search for Meaning (which he wrote in 9 days), Frankl details his horrific experience. This book is not pleasant reading. Yet by the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold over 10 million copies, being translated into 27 languages. 

When he was asked how he felt about the book's success, Frankl replied: "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."

Photo of a guard tower at Auschwitz-Birkenau by Jacomoman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

"Arbeit Macht Frei" is German for Work Sets You Free. 

This statement greeted throngs of common people like you and me who, as though cattle, were transported in boxcars to concentration camps of Germany and Poland in the '40s. These were unimaginable camps of horror and slave labor. 

In the context of a Nazi concentration camp, the banner Arbeit Macht Frei was absurd. In these horrific places, prisoners knew they could only be set free through death. If the work did not kill them, the gas chambers would. 

In writing Man's Search forMeaning, Frankl said: "I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of a concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."

Is your job a pain in the...neck? Do some co-workers bug you, like lice? Is your boss a brute? Our circumstances pale in comparison to Frankl's. Our employers don't come close to S.S. guards, and our co-workers can't hold a candlestick to double-crossing prisoners known as "Capos." 

It's worth considering how one 37-year-old in a concentration camp, surrounded by disease, human dung and despair, discovered how to bring meaning to those circumstances over which he had no control.

Realizing he was powerless to change the external factors, Frankl worked on internal factors.

"Don't aim at success," advised Frankl, "the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

Dedication to a cause greater than oneself? 

Surrender to a person other than oneself? 

Was this the key to Frankl's survival?

It's Truth that sets people free. Not work.

Next week I'll share some of my favorite Frankl quotes. Because they're true.