Victor Frankl lived in the time of Nazi Germany. He was a psychiatrist by profession and had been taught that we are a product of our environments, meaning the nature around us shapes who we become.

However, he had an “aha” moment. One day, naked and alone in the middle of the concentration camp, he realised everything he had been taught was a lie and that he did not have to be a product of his environment.

He realised that though the guards could torture him, kill his family (and they did), starve him, do despicable experiments on him and everything else that should literally make a man pray for death to come, he could still choose his response.

He realised that no one had the capacity to take away his character and ability to love others and respond with kindness. Just because everyone did evil around him did not mean he had to do evil. He had a choice to choose how he would respond and react to evil. As he began to love his enemies, he began to find purpose in his life. Amid the horrors that we can hardly even speak of or conceive, he began to change his mind in order to seek the power to love his torturers. He began to seek happiness amid the most depressing scenes the modern world has ever experienced.

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And here is the coolest thing that has relevance for us today. As he began to choose happiness, as he began to choose to give his life a purpose to love the unlovable and to be a good man living in a pit of evil — he began to feel free. He began to become physically healthier! As his mind and attitude changed, his actual emotional and physical state also changed!

Eventually, even the guards came and said though you are in captivity and we are “free”, it seems you are freer than us. They realised that the mental freedom to love, to do right, and to be happy is more valuable than the kind of freedom that comes when you don’t live in chains. They were not in literal captivity, but they lived in immense guilt because of the way they treated their fellow man, but their fear of punishment kept them living like animals, torturing innocent people for no good reason.

Many of us are free in that we do not live in jail, but our minds hold us captive to thoughts that lead us to feel enslaved to bitterness, anger, corruption and hate. It destroys our freedom to feel at peace.

The Bible is full of verses telling us to love our neighbour and enemies. The Bible tells us to get rid of all bitterness and anger and to walk in light. The Bible tells us to trust in the Lord and do good. The Bible even talks about the slaves of ancient times being free once they chose to follow Christ. It seems like an oxymoron. How can someone be a slave and yet still be free? The story of Victor Frankl puts a modern example to that verse and that concept.

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 1 Peter 2:18-25

In a world where many of us have done things we are ashamed of — things that lead us to live in darkness for fear that our sins will find, God says don’t be so afraid of the metal bars of jail or the repercussions of confessing your sins. Real freedom is found in repenting of our sins and turning away from our evil ways.

Real joy and happiness are found in coming clean and gaining mental clarity and not living in guilt and shame. Real joy can be found God is telling us to choose obedience to the path of righteousness rather than the path to self-gain, which leads us to making decisions which end up leading to shame. God is telling us how that we can be happy.

It is a choice we make when we choose who and what we will love in this world. It is a choice we make when we cease to claim we are victims of the evil that surrounds us. We can rise above it and choose to live righteous lives, do good deeds, and love people even when they don’t deserve it.

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