When I went through a rather traumatic experience recently, I found myself reflecting on a commonly held maxim of today’s pop culture: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Depending on your taste in music, you can find this statement in recent songs by Kanye West or Kelly Clarkson.
I’ll have to admit, there’s something rather uplifting about this premise. It’s great to hear that you can be made stronger, instead of weaker, during the storms of life.
But is this axiom truly Biblical, or just wishful thinking?
It turns out that the originator of the “Whatever doesn’t kill you…” statement appears to be nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He is more famous—or infamous—for launching the “God Is Dead” movement. But that alone doesn’t mean we should totally dismiss his view that whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
As I’ve pondered this, I’ve concluded that Nietzsche’s statement is a half-truth, something that can be either true or false depending on other factors. Let me explain…
There’s no guarantee that you will be strengthened by the traumas of life. We’ve all known people who experienced traumas and didn’t end up stronger—they just ended up traumatized. However, I bet you also can point to people who truly did become stronger as they overcame adversity.
You see, the evidence is pretty clear: Some people become BITTER when dealing with adversity, while others grow BETTER.
So what causes this stark difference in outcomes? Basically, the key is how we respond to the trauma. When faced with hardship, we have a fantastic opportunity to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:1). Instead of being destroyed by our trials, we can “go from strength to strength” (Psalm 84:7). When the flood waters come, they can lift us higher instead of drown us.
However, there’s nothing automatic about this. It’s a choice. A lifestyle. A recognition that God’s strength can be revealed amid our human weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Jacob wrestled with God one night and ended up limping as a result (Genesis 32:24-31). Was he stronger after that experience? Certainly not physically stronger.
But spiritually Jacob was infinitely stronger after this divine wrestling match. The transformation was so great that his whole identity shifted from “Jacob” (the scoundrel and deceiver) to “Israel” (a prince with God).
Ironically, the traumas of life ARE supposed to “kill” us, in a sense. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll immediately exit this world for heaven. Rather, it means we’ll increasingly die to ourselves and then experience more of God’s resurrection power.
The apostle Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). You can’t get any stronger than that.
I don’t know what you’re going through today. But I DO know this: God is faithful. He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11). And if you look to Him in your adversity and weakness, He will fill you with His supernatural strength.