The unverified stories of children who have died due to severe emotional and sensory deprivation, despite being fed and medically cared for, strengthen the idea that one can die from a lack of love. However, if we look more closely at the historical and personal human experience, we find that it is not necessarily a lack of love that kills, but rather a lack of meaning, or purpose.
It is hard to believe that the detainees of Sighet, the Soviet-era prison which I visited recently, experienced some kind of love during the years of torture, misery, and indescribable hatred they endured there. They may not have had a single moment of love, but there was something that kept them alive and made them withstand the inhumanity. It was the meaning. They were there for a cause and they were happy and blessed to still be suffering for a purpose, having the happiness of others in mind.
One can die because of a lack of love, even when being well taken care of.
The great and most primordial question on the lips of every human being who has ever set foot on this planet is not whether or not they are loved—although love is a deeply human need and a cause of many of today’s forms of suffering. The big question is: What is the purpose of my existence on earth? Does anyone enjoy my presence, do I make someone happy, do they need me, do I have a place reserved in people’s lives, a work that only I can do for people, for the happiness of those around me? Simply put, do I have a who and a what to live for?
According to Viktor Frankl, the weak and powerless prisoner survives the Nazi camp not because he has a disabled girl at home who loves him, but precisely because the love he has for her is the only way she can survive. He thus becomes necessary, even irreplaceable, in this relationship. Being loved is therefore not a purpose in itself, but only the confirmation that, somewhere, you can make someone happy.
The most crushing suffering
They say loneliness is deadly, and apparently, it is. However, it is not loneliness that is the deadliest curse in a person’s life, but futility in loneliness. Futility makes loneliness deadly. Even the love shown to you feels like pity when you experience the feeling of uselessness. Long years of loneliness and abandonment could not kill Richard Wurmbrand and countless others like him, not because loneliness is not deadly, but because their loneliness had important meaning and was secretly linked to the happiness of the people for whom they were suffering.
The people “the world was not worthy of” endured this frightening loneliness and, miraculously, survived. This was not because of any special ability they possessed, but because of the purpose and meaning behind their loneliness.
When, through your suffering or even death, you fight against the suffering and death of your loved ones, the meaning of your suffering or death changes radically.
Therefore, the great question of life is not centred around comfort, but purpose. Why, and for what purpose, am I here? What is the purpose of my existence or struggle? Are the actions I take justified and convincing? What are the fruits and intentions of my sweat or suffering? John the Baptist never wavered in the face of Roman swords and spears, but he wavered like a “reed swayed by the wind” in the face of the hideous shadow of uselessness he felt within the cold, damp walls of the prison.
In loneliness and apparent oblivion, the feeling of futility raises doubts not only about yourself but also about the wisdom and love of God. Doubt begins to wander like a beast of prey: “Are you the one who is supposed to come? Or should we look for someone else?”
People who are full of life and success in their work wither, and in many cases die, when they retire or when they are removed from their jobs. Uselessness kills more surely than any other suffering. Children grow up discouraged and intimidated if they don’t understand that their lives are useful, desired, and cherished, and that they make someone happy. The feeling of uselessness hastens the end for the countless people who believe that death is the only place where they can hide from it.
People were not created to be useless, and therefore they cannot survive the poison of becoming obsolete.
Degradation is even more profound when it comes to deliberate uselessness. It is classified as a parasite and is seen as a plague, but it is, in fact, a severe form of self-punishment, a deplorable self-mockery, and suffering accompanied by an indescribable misery of the soul, which often leads to suicide. The scale of the phenomenon has reached alarming and unimaginable levels.
The solution to the situations that “have no solution”
Suicide is not and will never be a solution. However, although the act of suicide will never be justified, it still takes place right before our eyes. No matter how many causes are invoked, in reality, the cause is in the scorched desert of uselessness and comes down to the question, “Why should I live?” This feeling, with its cohort of sufferings and consequences, does not bypass anyone.
Jeremiah wondered, “Why did I ever come out of my mother’s body? I’ve seen nothing but trouble and sorrow. My days will end in shame.” The prophet Elijah, in turn, demanded his death: “‘Lord, I’ve had enough’, he said. ‘Take my life. I’m no better than my people of long ago.'” Peter as well, after his insincerity, went out of the temple court, wanting to die.
Suicide is not, and will never be, a solution.
It is important to emphasize that the devastating feeling of uselessness cannot be imposed from the outside. It can only arise from within, and this is clear from the words attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, according to whom “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. It is interesting that if someone tells you that you are the queen of England, you laugh, but if they call you a bastard, you get upset and begin to wonder if it’s true. No one, neither God nor the Devil, can get in if you do not open the door. And the door only opens from the inside.
If we open the door to the feeling of uselessness, of meaninglessness, if suffering has spread in our whole being like cancer, if “we are brought down to the dust. Our bodies lie flat on the ground,” if we have “a broken spirit,” it is time to ask God for the experience about which the Saviour speaks throughout Isaiah: “The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.”
What does God have to say about our purpose?
When we begin to listen “like one being instructed”, we are ready for God to explain to us the purpose of our existence, which is the basis of our creation. God always works according to a plan, “…according to his good pleasure”, “…according to his eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What was God’s plan for our lives? What were His intentions, or what did He have in mind, when He gave us life?
The book The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, is probably one of the best known and most widely read books of our time. Warren’s conclusion that “you were planned for God’s pleasure, so your purpose is to love God through worship” left me with a sense of unfulfillment. There must be something of greater significance which is more urgently needed from me.
I am very happy to be “God’s pleasure” and I believe that the most beautiful words ever uttered were those spoken about Jesus: “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'” However, I do not believe that this is God’s purpose for us, but rather the expression of His feelings.
God’s love has no purpose, only expression, and we are one of them: Love “does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Even the freedom to accept or reject God’s love is, in itself, an expression of His love. One cannot speak of love without complete freedom. These thoughts give rise within ourselves to a source of love for the One who brought us into the world: “We love, because He first loved us.”
So, if my children were to ask me what is the purpose of their life on earth and why I gave them life, all I could say is that they were born out of love, and for love. The words, “This is how we know what love is” can be applied retroactively to the creation of the world when God rejoiced in the creation of His creatures, and this joy brought him ease. I imagine God “rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind,” “while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”
So there is Someone who enjoys me. I make Someone happy and I rejoice in His happiness. I like the joy that God brought to my world and in this light I understand my purpose here on earth. “The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as He delighted in your ancestors.” “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Happiness is like a summer rain
The fact that God is pleased with me and I can bring a smile to His face is the greatest value of my life. Everything else fades and dies before the highest purpose of my existence. This thought finds its fullness when applied to interpersonal relationships as well. Jesus inextricably linked the love of God with the love of one’s neighbour. Neither is possible without the other. They say the greatest happiness a father can give to his children is to love their mother. Well said. Making someone happy is the highest form of happiness.
Like water vapour rising from the earth, forming clouds and returning in the form of raindrops, so is the happiness that comes from making another happy.
This is the secret behind the life of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and those like her. She lived through the happiness of the wretched, whom she made happy despite the tragedy of their lives. Happiness was conceived by God to enter the soul exclusively through the soul of the neighbour—the happiness you receive is born of the happiness you give. This is the only true happiness that God has left on earth. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Loving because I am loved
How comforting it must have been for the prophet Samuel, when the people unjustly and ungratefully rejected him, to hear the words: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.”
The greatest consolation of the poor and the hungry is not to be given food and clothing, but to be in communion with God. Speaking of those who help them, the Lord says, “…you did [it] for me.” This will be the greatest shock to both the greedy murderer, and the lover of people who has given generously. Both will hear with astonishment: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” They will both answer to Him with a different astonishment: “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?”
Jesus lived and gave His life to convince me that, far from being God’s concern, I am the object of His love: “No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.” So He convinced me. The Father not only gives us but “gives generously to all without finding fault.” God not only gives us the Kingdom, but He is “pleased to give [us] the kingdom.” Therefore, I know that no matter how thick and black the clouds in the sky of life may be, the only thing I will look for is God’s smile. It will be enough for me because “love is as strong as death.”
Today, Jesus sees in us the fruit of the labour of His soul, and rejoices again.
Still, He rejoices even more in the joy of the Father, who loves us and is happy because we are happy. Jesus is the Brother who went “first to His brother,” saved him, and then brought the gift of his life before God, in an echo of the words of the Old Testament: “How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Far from turning His face away from the One who bore our sin, Jesus is filled with joy when He says: “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.”
How can this understanding of the reality of life before God affect us? Some of us grew up listening to the stories of the Bible’s heroes, but what do we have in common with these people who are exalted, and favoured even, by God? Do I dare to believe that I am surrounded by the same love? Yes. Let no one say to God, “It is too good to be true.” He rebukes us gently: “Is anything too hard for me?”
It is not faith in God’s love and power that is lacking on earth today, but this faith in my case. Nichita Stănescu wondered in the poem “Us again”: “Good, but what about us? / They were great, tragic, holy… / They ate bread, / raised our parents. / But us, what about us? / They were cold, they suffered, / they walked through the snow, through the mud, / they died and they did not die. / We live, what about us? / Has something been decided? Has it been decided? / When exactly and what exactly? / We are, but we are lonely!”
Yes, something so lofty and noble was decided that the echo of this decision goes beyond the stars: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” And, as a guarantee of this reality, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus decided and expressed His request as follows: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world,” so that whoever sees the fulfilment of this will say, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”