2021 began much like 2020 ended — political unrest, riots, censorship, joblessness, terrorism and COVID; however, when one looks at history, it mirrors the same problems. Yellow Fever, Black Plague, crusades, great depressions, world wars and revolutions, the Holocaust; the atrocities a reminder we’ve all fallen short of the Glory of God.

The choice to retain hope and love in the face of turbulent circumstances and suffering defines our character.

Everyone experiences suffering, grief and loss at some point, it’s what we do with it that shows who we are individually and collectively as a society. Do we give back bad for bad? Do we seek revenge or turn the other cheek? Do we slander instead of believing the best of others? Do we give mercy and grace to differing thoughts, words and deeds?

Victor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who experienced four different camps, including Auschwitz, said, “Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it.” He explores this idea in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” contradicting Freud’s idea that the quest for pleasure is life’s ultimate goal.

In the camps, he could predict who’d die by the way the prisoner smoked his last cigarette. He’d given up; he believed the suffering was meaningless and there was nothing left to live for. However, Frankl asserts it’s hope in something more that keeps our humanity alive.

Living in a concentration camp rips open the human soul, exposing the war between good and evil. Often the choice to remain hopeful and kind becomes the difference between life and death. As it is with us today.

Many say they love God — but can anyone tell? God is light and illuminates the ugly places in our hearts. Hate and evil are two sides of the same coin. They show themselves through vitriolic speech and malignant action. People are blinded by the inner darkness of wants at the expense of others.

Living altruistically is the ultimate goal for a meaningful and purposeful life. A life lifting others up in some way pushes away the selfishness inside. We must take an uncomfortable look within, and ask the hard questions required for change. Can we make the choice to love others regardless of race, religion, politics, gender, addictions, social class?

God is benevolent and loves us unconditionally. Tapping into his Word, the Bible gives us strength and wisdom, minimizing hate and ego. Suffering when bad things happen builds character, producing emotional and spiritual maturity, giving meaning in the now, leaving a trail for others to emulate.

Frankl says to be worthy of suffering is to treat others well no matter the cost. Suffering is part of life, but we don’t have to react in cruelty. Seek a life of a higher moral calling. All of us are here for a purpose, few ever find it — be the one who does. Live the love of God. It’s a choice that cannot be lost.

Leslie Cappiello, Ph.D., is an educator and lives in Galveston.

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