The other day a preacher was sharing with a group or people who, for various reasons, were broken. Some were hurting from the effects of divorce or broken homes. Others were damaged due to years of battling sickness and various addictions. Still, others that had recently lost love ones and were broken-hearted and searching for reason. Right in the middle of the speaker sharing some very inspiring words of encouragement, he inserted a well-known phrase which most of us have heard many times throughout our lives and one that seems to become more popular as time goes by. The problem with the statement is that while it is intended to bring a positive note to a negative event or situation, it is a notion that is not only anti-Biblical, but it is downright dangerous and almost guarantees continued failure.
The statement spoken in the middle of a faith-filled motivational message intended to inspire a large group of people with wounded souls was, “Anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The original quote attributed to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche was actually, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” For those unfamiliar with Nietzsche, he was a philosopher who was very critical towards people of faith who proclaimed in 1882 that “G-d was Dead.”
Yet, his quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” has many times been quoted by the very people who profess the absolute opposite of what Nietzsche promoted. Although, on the surface, the statement about survival making us stronger sounds good and even encouraging to those who travelled the path of struggle and personal warfare, the Bible teaches us a very different understanding. If we truly desire to overcome and be stronger as a result of surviving our circumstances, the only way we will be able to do so is by looking not to an anti-faith atheist, but by looking to the words of life provided by our G-D.
Let’s look at the Biblical perspective of strength, true strength. When preparing to face the Philistine Goliath, David, who had survived attacks by a lion and a bear, proclaimed to King Saul in 1 Samuel 17:37,
Then David said: Adonai, who has delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine. Go! said Saul to David, and may Adonai be with you.
Notice that although the lion and bear didn’t kill David, David understood he didn’t get stronger,, but rather that G-D provided the strength. This is further established when David enters the field of battle with Goliath. David doesn’t speak of his own strength. He proclaims in 1 Samuel 17:45,
Then David said to the Philistine, You are coming to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin, but I am coming to you in the Name of Adonai-Tzva’ot, God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.
In the book of Zechariah, we read about the calling of Zerubbabel to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. The captivity in Babylon was horrendous, yet Zerubbabel survived. When the Angel of the L-RD spoke to Zerubabbel, he didn’t say. “I know things were tough in Babylon, but remember what didn’t kill you made you stronger.” No, not at all. In Zachariah 4:6, we read,
Then he responded to me by saying, This is the word of Adonai to Zerubbabel saying: Not by might, nor by power, but by My Ruach! says Adonai-Tzva’ot.
The Angel made it perfectly clear to Zerubbabel that he was not made stronger while in Babylon and that it wasn’t by this newly establish survival strength that Zerubbabel would re-establish Jerusalem’s glory. No, not at all. It was only through understanding that it was by G-D’s might and power that Jerusalem would be renewed.
In the midst of the “Heroes of Faith” chapter, Hebrews 11, we read,
By faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, and made foreign armies flee.
It isn’t by our strength that these heroes prevailed through their hardships and tests of faith. It was through their faith and weakness that they were able to defeat their enemies.
Paul, the most effective and powerful apostle in the New Testament, describes the difficulties he lived through in 2 Corinthians 11:25-30,
Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent in the open sea. In my many journeys I have been in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the desert, dangers in the sea, dangers among false brothers, in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Besides these other things, there is daily pressure on me of concern for all of Messiah’s communities. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast of my weakness.
Notice after all of these things that didn’t kill him, Paul says he doesn’t want to boast in his strength – he wanted to boast in his weakness.
Remember in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul spoke these words,
But He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Messiah may dwell in me. For Messiah’s sake, then, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
So, contrary to pop culture’s repetition of Nietzsche’s false pronouncement about our becoming stronger because we survived those things that did not kill us, the truth is that it isn’t that we get stronger, rather it is that our faith gets stronger because we learn from our experiences that our G-D is stronger than anything that would come against us.