They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in the situation which I have called the “existential vacuum.”
The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom. In actual fact, boredom is now causing, and certainly bringing to psychiatrists, more problems to solve than distress. And these problems are growing increasingly crucial, for progressive automation will probably lead to an enormous increase in leisure hours available to the average worker. The pity of it is that many of these will not know what to do with all their newly acquired free time.
Let us consider, for instance, “Sunday neurosis,” that kind of depression which afflicts people who become aware of the lack of content in their lives when the rush of the busy week is over and the void within themselves becomes manifest. Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this existential vacuum. Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them. This is also true of the crises of pensioners and aging people.
Moreover, there are various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes the frustrated will to meaning is vicariously compensated for a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, the place of frustrated will to meaning is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. We can observe in such cases that the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.
I was blown away by the brilliant and spiritual insight that Viktor Frankl had when he penned these words so many years ago. Reading his collected works, Man’s Search For Meaning, I was astounded by how well he pegged this generation and our problems.
Even in myself, I notice that sometimes my life struggles and the temptations that I face are a result of an existential vacuum. I lose sight of my purpose or the meaning of my life. And I’m sure that I am not the only one that realizes this.
But hope is not lost. We may find ourselves in an existential vacuum at times, but our God has given us a purpose. He has spoken to us what our lives are supposed to be about. He has given us something to do, something to accomplish. God has given us an answer to our search for meaning.
I hope that you find encouragement and strength in these verses of Scripture to help you in your time of existential vacuum.
Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world. – James 1. 27
Seek good and not evil,
That you may live;
So the Lord God of hosts will be with you,
As you have spoken.
Hate evil, love good;
Establish justice in the gate.
It may be that the Lord God of hosts
Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. – Amos 5.14-15
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12.28-31
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. – Ecclesiastes 12.13
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