My grace is sufficient for you . . .
– 2 Cor 2:19
In the prologue of the Gospel of John, originally written in Greek, we find the word logos, which is translated into English as “Word.” The evangelist poetically describes logos in three mystical aspects: in the beginning, with God, was God (John 1:1-2). In the next three verses (John 1:3-5), John elaborates on these mystical aspects of logos.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, a physician and holocaust survivor, interprets logos as “meaning” and demonstrates how “will to meaning” is a fundamental human motive for living a meaningful life. Frankl writes from lived experience in Nazi concentration camps and work as a healer. He quotes Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Frankl’s method of healing is known as logotherapy, healing through seeking and making meaning in all of life’s circumstances.
Let us review these two interpretations of logos in parallel and consider how they support healing and “whole-ing” of our lives. We will also uncover alternate meanings of logos that add depth and dimension to our reflections. We begin with the majestic language of the fourth gospel and compare the congruence between the mystical intuition of the evangelist and psychological insights of the physician.
“All things came to be through” (John 1:3): Creatively Emanate
In Genesis 1:2, a mythical expression for chaos—“without form or shape, darkness over the abyss, wind churning the waters”—precedes the ordering (“to put in order” or “to arrange” are among the meanings of the root word for logos) of elements through the will of God. John’s use of logos corresponds to three parts of creative emanation: the what (order out of chaos), the how (through), and the why (will of God). Thus, the evangelist describes creative emanation as a material manifestation of the mystical Divine Will and Wisdom.
A parallel to John 1:3 is the discourse of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31. Wisdom is the English translation of a biblical Greek term that refers to both wisdom (sophia) and intelligent, skilled craftsmanship (sophos). Similar to logos, sophos conveys the what, how, and why of “all things [that] came to be” through divine art and play.
Similarly, Frankl postulates that the wise creative use of one’s gifts and talents is the first universal “why” that provides us with motive and meaning. In concentration camps, Frankl writes, the will to meaning through creative acts was demonstrated through improvised plays and poetry readings. The desire to create something of artistic value often provided a reason to endure harsh and inhumane conditions.
In practical terms, when we engage in creative endeavors that foster life, we find meaning and purpose in our lives. Later in life, when we look back at “everything . . . made, and find it very good” (Gen 1:31), we are grateful “on the sixth day” of our lives.
“Light was the life of the human race” (John 1:4): Compassionately Express
In Genesis 1, we read that God made light and all forms with “the breath of life” in them. In Genesis 2:4, God breathes “his breath of life” into humans. In John 1:4, the evangelist links light with human life and reiterates that we are lamps of God: “a lamp of God is human life-breath” (Prov. 20:27). Here, logos—the “living word”—lights up our life with each and every breath. We are invited to “discern” (another meaning of the root word for logos) the God who breathes with us experientially as we journey through life. Every breath-taking and life-sharing experience now becomes our opportunity to emulate the compassionate expression of logos-with-us.
Frankl identifies lived experiences as a second universal “why.” He points out how admiring beauty in nature and works of art can provide experiential value and offer meaning to our lives. In Nazi camps, the sight of a tree, flower, or sky often sufficed to provide an appreciation of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
In practical terms, when we love something for its own sake, we are enriched by the experience. When we love someone, we also help actualize the potentialities for goodness in each other by “expressing the experience of that ultimate togetherness which is called love.”
“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5): Cheerfully Exude
In Genesis 1:5, light and darkness are separated as day and night. In John 1:5, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot comprehend it.” Here, we are directed to another meaning of logos, reason, and reassured that even in the darkness of human incomprehension, the divine light in us illuminates our path from within all the days and nights of our lives. This conviction enables us to choose and live from an attitude of courage amid catastrophe that we cannot comprehend: “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps 23:4). Furthermore, it becomes possible to choose and exude a paradoxical attitude of inner joy and rejoicing amid and despite outer sorrow and ruin (Ps 32).
Frankl’s corollary to this verse is the third universal “why.” He identifies the ability to choose one’s attitude in the midst of inescapable or unavoidable adversity as “a last chance to actualize the highest-value, to fulfill the deepest meaning, the meaning of suffering.” Frankl finds this inner spiritual freedom, which cannot be lost or taken away, can make life meaningful and purposeful in the most adverse conditions. In his words, “suffering ceases to be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” To illustrate this point, he quotes Psalm 56: “Thou has kept count of my tossing, put my tears in thy bottle, are they not in thy book?”
In practical terms, even after we no longer have the opportunity or ability to live for creative or experiential values, we always retain the ability to choose attitudinal values, i.e., our attitude toward all conditions of our life.
Logotherapy and Logos-therapy
Logotherapy shares at least two other interpretations of logos with Scripture. In describing noogenic (from noos, Greek for “mind”) neuroses pertaining to the spiritual core of human personality, Frankl uses the definition of logos as “spirit.” He considers these conditions of existential frustration as meta-clinical problems that are healed only through spiritual insights. Here logotherapy is aligned with the spirit of Augustine’s well-known dictum that “Thou hast made us for thyself; our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” Finally, to help “bear the incapacity to grasp [life’s] unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms,” Frankl advises the use of spiritual resources that guide us to “supra-meaning”: “ultimate meaning that . . . surpasses finite intellectual capacities of man.” Here, logotherapy leads us to logos-therapy by indicating that “logos is deeper than logic.” The insightful physician Frankl guides us to the mystical evangelist John. “From . . . fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace” (John 1:16). This is the case for grace!
In logos-therapy, we realize the grace of logos is given abundantly and freely to the human race. In Matthew’s gospel, this is stated as the “sun rises on the good and bad, and rain falls on the just and unjust” (Matt 5:45). From this perspective, “everything is grace” (Thérèse of Lisieux) and “grace is everywhere” (Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest).
Moreover, while humans need a “why,” the Divine does not. In the words of Meister Eckhart, “God loves without a why.” When we discover Logos operating through, with, and in each of us, we learn to cooperate with grace in our actions and attitudes. However, in order to avoid spiritual materialism, doing good for the sake of spiritual reward, Eckhart advises us that “it is not what we do that makes us holy, but we ought to make holy what we do.” How then do we co-operate with grace? Eckhart has an answer: “If the only prayer you say in life is thank you, it will be enough.” So “in all circumstances, [we] give thanks” (1 Thess 5:18) and do everything with gratis, an attitude of gratitude!
We can practice these concepts of logo-therapy and logos-therapy in a GR-A-CE meditation, receiving and sharing the light, the love, and the joy of logos in every breath of life and the breath of every life:
Gratefully Receive – And – Creatively Emanate
Gratefully Receive – And – Compassionately Express
Gratefully Receive – And – Cheerfully Exude. ♦
O’Neill D’Cruz retired once from academic clinical practice as a pediatrician and neurologist, a second time from the neuro-therapeutics industry, and now spends his time caring, coaching, and consulting from his home in North Carolina, known locally as the “Southern Part of Heaven.” He is a wounded healer who works to heal the wounded, in order that All Shall Be Well.