Life without purpose is killing
During World War II, those Jews who were not immediately exterminated by Hitler’s brutal henchmen were herded into disease-infested concentration camps. In Hungary the Nazi set up a camp factory where prisoners were force to distill tons of human waste and garbage into alcohol to be used as a fuel additive. Perhaps even worse than being forced to labor amid the nauseating odor of stewing sludge was the prisoners’ realization that their work was helping to fuel the Fuhrer’s war machine. Yet month after month the laborers survived on meager food and disgusting work.
In 1944, Allied aircraft began bold air strikes deep into Europe. One night this area of Hungary was bombed, and the hated factory destroyed. The next morning the guards ordered the prisoners to one end of the charred remains where they were commanded to shovel the debris into carts and drag it to the other end of the compound. They’re going to make us rebuild this wretched place, the prisoners thought as they bent to their labor.
The next day they were ordered to move the huge pile of debris again, back to the end of the compound. Stupid swine, the prisoners murmured to themselves. They made a mistake and now we have to undo everything we did yesterday. But it was no mistake.
Day after day the prisoners hauled the same mountain of rubble back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. After several weeks of this meaningless drudgery, one old man began sobbing uncontrollably and was led away by the guards. Another screamed until his captors beat him into silence. Then a young man who had survived three years of vile labor that supported the oppressors’ cause darted away from the group and raced toward the electrified fence.
“Halt!” the guards shouted. But it was too late. There was a blinding flash, a terrible sizzling noise, and the smell of smoldering flesh. The futile labor continued, and in the days that followed dozens of prisoners went mad and ran from their work, only to be shot by the guards or electrocuted by the fence.
Their captors didn’t care, of course. Indeed the commandant of the camp had ordered this monstrous activity as “an experiment in mental health” to see what would happen when people were given meaningless work. After seeing the results, he smugly remarked that at this rate there soon would be “no more need to use the crematoria.”
It is no wonder, the Great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in his book The House of the Dead, has written, “If you want to utterly crush a man, just give him work of a completely senseless, irrational nature. Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark, raving mad.” (Ref: Chuck Colson & Jack Ecklerd, Why America doesn’t work).
If you don’t have a work, find one. It doesn’t matter whether it is noble or ignorable. Your meaning for existence is defined by your work. A society without work, a family without doing any meaningful work, a person not engage in purposeful work is rushing into the stage what the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called “soul sickness.”
From the beginning of the world there was work, for at the beginning there was creation – the work of God. When He rested on the seventh day, “He rested from all the work.” He created human beings in His own image, and part of being “in His image” means that we are workers, like God Himself. That’s where that innate, inner drive comes from.
To the ancient Jews “work was life,” and they had a saying: “He who does not teach his son a trade teaches him to steal.” Although their training made them equivalent of college professors, the Jewish rabbis did not accept money for teaching. Each learned a trade at which he worked with his hands and by which he supported himself. Rabbis were tailors and shoemakers and barbers and bakers and even performers. (William Barclay, Ethics in permissive Society, 1971)
Pagan civilizations; and radical views such as Greek civilization, considered work as a “curse.” The gods hated mankind, Homer argued, and out of spite condemned man to toil (Adriano Tigler, Homo Faber: Work Through the Ages, 1965). The Greeks called work “ponos,” from the Latin poena, meaning “punishment.” Artisans and craftsmen were regarded a little better than slaves, while slavery itself was an institution based on a loathing of work. The traditional Hindu philosophy also advocated that manual and loathsome duties as punishments from previous births.
However, the Bible teaches us that God called mankind to cultivate the world He had created and exercise dominion over it. This is a call to work. Take your field work or your table as a place where you are commission by the Lord. Find the joy and fulfillment in your work; because it is the best indicator of your testimony and contribution to the welfare of others.
“So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?” (Eccl 2:24-25, The Living Bible).
Dr. Ngul Khan Pau