“Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” -Viktor Frankl
Dante, in his Inferno, wrote that the gate leading into Hell carries the inscription, “Abandon all hope, you who enter.” Indeed life without hope is hell. But can hope be found in the midst of hell? I’m talking about the here-and-now, in this world and this life, in the midst of suffering, and pain, and despair that threaten to rob one’s life of meaning? Can hope be found when all that matters most seems lost, or in real danger of being lost?
To fully understand the virtue of hope, one must recognize that “hell” is actually the best place to find it.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl described an intimate moment that speaks to this point. Early one morning he was marching with fellow prisoners inside the concentration camp of Auschwitz when he began thinking of his wife. He imagined her smile, her reassuring facial expressions, and a dialogue they might have if they were together. And he suddenly realized that whether she was in fact alive or dead, at that moment he was changed. He had connected with something transcendent, and the hope it inspired lifted him above the horror of his present situation and gave him a reason to go on.
Surrounded by death, Frankl discovered that which death cannot swallow up.
Hope is what makes life worth living. It is the virtue that confronts cynicism and despair. It is the anchoring conviction that there is meaning in life, and it is the force that urges you to find it…and keep finding it. But hope is more than this.
Hope is grounded in the reality that in the eternal battle of good versus evil, good will win. In the end, things will make sense. If optimism is lighting a candle in the darkness, hope is the knowing that whether the candle goes out or not the dawn will eventually come.
It may not look that way sometimes, in fact it may not look that way many times. And if one only considers the present state of the world, and passing circumstances, disillusionment and fear can set up permanent residency in the heart.
Bad things do happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, and life is not always fair. Hope does not deny this reality, but it does challenge the belief that this reality needs to be final and ultimate.
Do you believe this? Do you believe in your heart that good is more powerful than evil, that love is greater than hate, and that death doesn’t have the last word? And are you moved to act? I pray you are.
Because the ongoing search for meaning and purpose is essential to being fully alive. It is only in this search that one finds reasons to hope, and thus reasons to go on.
Heaven and hell do begin in this life. Hope is the virtue that decides which one you’ll choose.