It has been said that there are three requirements for a fulfilling life. Are you listening? High school graduates? College students? Those starting life? Those in mid-life? Those in golden years? 1. A clear sense of personal identity: Who am I? 2. A strong sense of personal mission: Why am I here? 3. A deep sense of life’s meaning: What is the purpose of it all? If we settle for superficial answers, we’ll be disappointed and face the threat of a cynical or delusional life. It is of great importance that we look for answers in the right place—and recall the great prayer of Augustine: “Dear Lord, You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Here is the answer we need.
Prisoner 174517 was one of only 3 survivors out of a group of 650 Italian Jews transported to Poland in 1944. One day in the Auschwitz death camp, prisoner 174517 was thirsty.
“Seeing a fat icicle hanging just outside his hut in the Auschwitz extermination camp, he reached out of the window and broke it off to quench his thirst. But before he could get the icicle to his mouth, a guard snatched it out of his hands and dashed it to pieces on the filthy ground.”
‘Why?’ the prisoner burst out instinctively—’Why?’ the guard answered with brutal finality, ‘Here there is no why.’”
To Prisoner 174517, the “Italian Jewish scientist and writer, the guard’s answer was the essence of the death camps—places that defied all explanation for their absolute evil. In the face of their horror, explanations born of psychology, sociology, and economics were pathetic in their inadequacy” (Long Journey Home: A Guide to Your Search For the Meaning of Life,” Os Guinness).
The ‘Why?’ Question
Some things defy explanation. They seem inexplicable or gratuituos. But we still ask “Why?”
It is a question we ask our whole lives. It looks for a reason, a purpose, a motive– an explanation for the way things are.
“Why?” was a question God began asking in the earliest days of human history. To Cain—“Why are you angry?” To Abraham—“Why did Sarah laugh?”
Moses asked, “Why is the bush not burned up?” Nathan asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord?” Job asked, “Why did I not die at birth?”
Jesus repeatedly asked “why” questions – “Why are you anxious?” “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye?” “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” “Why do you not believe me?” Most dramatic of all: “Why have you forsaken me?”
Here There Is No Why
“Why?” cuts through the superficial and requires explanations, a reason, a motive, a cause, a purpose. Without experiencing anything close to the horrors of the Auschwitz, people all over the world—out of the frustrating emptiness of life, agree with the brutal finality of the guard’s answer, “Here there is no why.”
What a sad conclusion.
Evidently, Job felt this despair when under the unspeakable weight and misery of his suffering, he cried out, “Why did I not die at birth?” Sometimes life hurts so much, and seems so unexplainable that we cannot see clearly enough to answer the ‘why?’ question. But we go on asking because we feel compelled to find answers.
We Seek a Final Explanation
“Unique among living species, human life is aware of itself, yet we find ourselves in a world that doesn’t explain itself. So we’re impelled to ask why things are as they are and how we fit in. What gives life to life? Why is there something rather than nothing?”
“Deep inside us we know the facts of the matter are not the end of the matter. So we seek a final explanation, a source of meaning that goes as far back as one can go, an ultimate answer before which all questions cease.”
“This will to find meaning is fundamental. It is ‘the primary motivational force in man,’ according to psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. ‘Meaning is not a luxury for us,’ says philosopher Dallas Willard. ‘It is a kind of spiritual oxygen, we might say, that enables our souls to live.’”