Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

by Burk Parsons

We have heard people say, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Both believers and unbelievers alike cling to this proverbial life principle that gives us a sense of comfort and hope in the midst of our daily anxieties, miseries, and afflictions. This is a universally understood truth that Scripture itself teaches (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:2-4, 12; 1 Pet. 4:12-19). Trials do indeed make us stronger and more steadfast in our faith. Trials mature us. They help us to grow up. However, this is only one part of the biblical equation.

When we as a human race fell into sin, our affections changed, and we who once had the ability not to sin became a people who could not help but sin and even found pleasure in sin, albeit fleeting pleasure. Sin ravaged our hearts and minds, and, like Tolkien’s Gollum, we began to wallow in the mire of sin-dependent idolatry all the while maintaining our autonomy from God and our supreme, though perceived control over any and all our precious little idols, each of which possessed an uncanny resemblance to ourselves.

Before the fall we were dependent creatures depending on God alone, and after the fall we remain dependent creatures in our sustained existence. However, after the Fall, the object of our affections became manifold, and, in turn, the object of our dependence changed from depending on God alone–worshiping and serving the Creator alone–to worshiping and serving the creature and his comforts.

Without hesitation we happily turned to worship the supreme creature and all the idols we could conjure up as self-proclaimed, autonomous, self-made creators. We became dependent on our own self-made objects of affection, and our dependence was divided between the creature and the Creator.

When trials and temptations come (and if we’re not spiritually calloused or overly cynical, we’ll notice their hourly arrival) we are faced with the decision as to whether we will depend on self or depend on God–whether we’ll depend on our own means of sustenance and satisfaction that leads to daily death independent of God or whether we’ll depend on God’s means of sustenance and ever-present satisfaction that leads to daily life abundant that is dependent on God.

We understand that all of life’s trials and temptations are a direct result of the Fall–our fall from Creator-dependent true worship to self-dependent false worship. And even when we consider the first sins of Satan’s rebellion in the heavens and Adam’s rebellion in the Garden, we can see how they strove to be independent from God when tempted by the titillating notion of such independence.

Our daily temptations, daily anxieties, daily miseries, and daily afflictions are part and parcel of life’s daily trials. These fiery trials sometimes come blazing and sometimes come like a sudden spark out of nowhere, coming both from without and from within–darts from the world and the devil, which we’ve come to expect, and darts from our own hearts that we still surprisingly shoot at ourselves. Both the enemy within us and the enemies outside us exist as a natural result of the Fall, and in their natural course of existence they fight daily to gain our affection, allegiance, and dependence. Like Gollum’s precious little idol that seemed to want to be found, our self-swindling hearts seem to want us to find our immediate and ultimate fulfillment in anything that lures our dependence away from God. Meanwhile, our Enemy is content simply to draw our affections to anything but the one true God, and thus to make us less dependent on God and increasingly dependent on ourselves and on our hearts’ precious idols, which will come alive and do our bidding.

While we do indeed become stronger and more mature as a result of life’s daily trials, ultimately, as the adopted children of God our Father, the trials he sovereignly sends our way are not intended to make us stronger but to make us weaker–less dependent on our own strength and more dependent on God and the power of his strength in which we can delightfully and eternally boast as does our brother Paul:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then,I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:8–10).

Whatever doesn’t kill us, by God’s grace, makes us weaker in our self-dependence and more dependent on the strength of God. And this is all through the One who endured the trial of the Cross so that we might regain life dependent. By His grace we remain utterly dependent as we live justified from faith to faith at the foot of the Cross taking up our own crosses daily and dependently. As it is written, the righteous shall live by faith in God, not faith in self.

Do we in our own strength confide? Our striving would indeed be losing.

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