Frankl concluded that prisoners with faith in God survived

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl of Jewish ancestry faced deportation in 1942 along with his wife and his parents.

FAITH & REFLECTION — Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was a psychiatrist of Jewish ancestry. In 1942, Frankl, along with his wife and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. By the end of the war, all of his immediate family members, including his wife had perished, except for his sister Stella. He was released in 1945 and went on to become a prolific writer and had a brilliant career in psychotherapy.

During his incarceration Frankl worked as a medical doctor, but when his skills in psychiatry were observed, he was assigned to psychiatric care. In addition to the labours assigned to him by camp authorities, he helped newcomers deal with the shock and grief in their lives. He also set up a suicide watch for those who were feeling overwhelmed.

Frankl’s observations and conclusions, during that time, are quite remarkable. He said, “Everything can be taken away from a man, but one thing: the last of the human freedoms; to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Considering his own hardships, as well as observing the adversity of others, he later wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.”

Frankl spent considerable time observing the coping and survival skills of other prisoners. His study was more personal than academic. He was looking for techniques that he could glean and apply to his own life so that he could carry on. He later explained that he could find only one solid conclusion to explain why some survived and others didn’t.

Frankl concluded that individuals who could not accept what was happening to them, or make any sense of their present suffering within the context of their faith, or couldn’t make it fit with a degree of congruence within their worldview, would simply experience despair, lose hope and die. Prisoners who found meaning from within their faith, even in these horrific circumstances, were able to hold to a hope for the future beyond their present suffering. Their faith facilitated a qualified acceptance of what was happening to them. The prisoners with this faith and viewpoint tended to survive.

Interestingly, Frankl himself, did not claim to believe in God, nor is there much in the way of reference to God in his counselling therapy. Yet he observed and documented, unquestionably, what a significant difference faith in God makes.

Some years ago, following a service, a couple came to me and said, “You implied that faith in God makes some difference in your life.” I responded, “You are close. What I said was that faith in God through His Son makes all of the difference in my life.”

How is your faith? Is He making a difference in your life?