Once a friend of mine said, “Doesn’t the Bible say, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger?” I’ll confess I had to look, and the answer is “no.” Not only is the answer no, but the statement is attributed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche died at the age of 56 after a debilitating mental breakdown, followed by a host of medical issues. In the end, his illness rendered his famous motto void, at least as it played out in his own life.
The truth that we are made stronger by our trials is, however, supported by scripture. In his letter to the Romans Paul wrote, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3 NIV). Yet there is a difference between the rationale for Nietzsche’s and Paul’s convictions. Nietzsche felt if we could find a way to endure human suffering, it would equip us to win future personal battles. Paul, on the other hand, believed God was working through his trials to increase his spiritual perseverance and bring the hope of Jesus into greater focus. Briefly stated, one path puts its ultimate hope in humanity and the other in God.
This means the answer to the question “what makes us stronger?” is answered in the context of a relationship. It is true Paul says our suffering “produces” perseverance, but we can’t understand the meaning of this truth apart from his other statement: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom 5:5 NIV).
This distinction is extremely important because it reveals the foundational effect trials have on the certainties of our faith. If faith grows as we learn to respect the amazingly complex options at God’s disposal, then the purpose of suffering becomes clear. Suffering teaches us to depend less on our own strength and more on God. While it is true victory over our circumstances can and should make us more confident, we would be arrogant to assume we are fully responsible. Indeed, the resources we use to overcome have their origin in God, and we would likely be surprised if we knew the full extent of His intervention.
How would you describe your confidence in your ability to overcome trials? How much faith do you put in your own abilities? How much faith do you put in God’s abilities?
Dear God, I need You more than ever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.