The 20th century has been the century with more death and suffering than perhaps any other century in the history of the world – certainly in the last thousand years. Following many decades of great philosophers and progress towards a world based on Western morals of freedom and democracy, the abyss of bloody battles against the forces of darkness turned out to be the main theme of the 20th century.
World War I was so horrible, with millions of people killed, that the only solace that came at the end of the The Great War was that at least victory brought with it hopes of a peaceful future. Well, that didn’t last much more than 20 years, and then World War II turned out to be even more deadly than World War I. Upwards of 50 million people, mainly civilians, were killed during the torrid events of World War II. It indeed was a war that was fought across nearly all of Europe, Asia, across Northern Africa, the Pacific Islands, and even in the Atlantic Ocean.
The traumatic impacts were felt by nearly every survivor of World War II. That means that the more than 20 million refugees that ended up behind the Iron Curtain or to the west of the Iron Curtain had all endured so much in their lives that would impact their families for decades afterwards. The entire country of Japan was one huge island of suffering.
Similarly, following the Korean War, Vietnam War, and revolutions that took place under the Soviet Union, millions of people would never be the same. The key issue was whether or not they had at least some limited ability to properly deal with the unthinkable suffering they had endured or were exposed to.
Most did not have anywhere close to the ability to cope. It was just too overwhelming – especially if they were still in the midst of the suffering. But there were the amazing exceptions. It was certainly not as simple to ascribe their ability to cope with the criterion of whether or not they believed in G-d. The reality was just so overwhelming.
The best explanation, referred to in this fascinating exchange with Jordan Peterson, of the people who seemed most able to cope, is whether or not people were able to raise up their minds and find some level of meaningfulness in their suffering. Victor Frankl, himself a holocaust survivor, elaborated on this extensively in his landmark work on the subject of man’s search for meaning.
The questions have always been far greater than the answers. But when their is at least a partial sense of understanding that allows a person to rise beyond the present situation of suffering, it makes an enormous impact – especially if their is a Higher Authority that one feels connected to.
Suffering exists as long as the world does. But so does the meaningfulness behind the suffering – even if we only partially comprehend it.