Preparation for Perseverance
“3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 NIV
“Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.” Folk Wisdom, origin unknown
Dear Church Family,
My Cord Group just began reading, The Coddling of the American Mind. The authors suggest three “great untruths” that are driving a change on college campuses across the nation. The first of these is, “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” You may recognize this as a play on a well-known statement by the atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill me make me stronger” (or something like that). Nietzsche’s idea is that adversity builds strength and resiliency, but the attitude on college campuses these days is that students need “safe spaces” where they are insulated from harm, even the “harm” of controversial opinions.
So how do these ideas align with the Bible? Well, the Romans passage cited above suggests something that sounds similar to what Nietzsche said. Paul said that “suffering produces perseverance,” and Nietzsche taught that an individual who shoulders whatever burdens come his or her way becomes a stronger individual. However, a study of the biblical attitude toward the trials of life yields an important difference from what Nietzsche was teaching.
First Peter 1:6-7 and James 1:2-4 also speak of the role that adversity plays in our Christian lives. “The testing of your faith produces steadfastness,” James 1:3 says (ESV). First Peter 1:6-7 describes how trials refine our faith as fire refines gold. Finally, in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul recounts how a great affliction in Asia had led him and his coworkers to despair of life itself. He goes on, however, to say that God was teaching them to rely on him.
The difference between the biblical teaching on the trials of life and Nietzsche’s teaching may seem small, but it is profoundly different. Simply put, Nietzsche said, “what does not kill you makes you stronger;” the Bible says, “what does not kill you makes you trust God more.” In the thought of the atheist philosopher, life’s adversities make you a stronger individual, more rugged, more independent. According to scripture, those adversities are meant to teach you to turn to him, to rely on him, to make you more dependent on him.
No, the adversities of life are not meant to make you weaker, and they are not to be avoided at all costs. They do, in fact, make you stronger. But they don’t make you stronger by teaching you to rely on yourself and your own strength. They make you stronger because they teach you to rely on God, the source of all real strength. As you are going through difficulties, do not rely on your own strength, and don’t “go it alone.” Let God and God’s people help give you strength.