“That Which Does Not Kill Us…”
Rev. William Bills
September 30, 2020
Does anyone remember who said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”?
I have read several of Friedrich Nietzsche’s books, but I didn’t know that these were his words. Nietzsche was a German philosopher, poet, and cultural critic. At age forty-four, he suffered a complete mental breakdown. He died in 1900 at the age of fifty-six. He influenced Western philosophy and is associated with nihilism, Nazism, and scathing critiques of religion, among other things. I have heard people use his words when facing a challenging situation.
When these words came to mind yesterday, I consulted Google for the source. Then I checked my Bible concordance. I wanted to ascribe the words to God’s long-suffering servant, Job. Job was the man who had done nothing wrong but nonetheless was allowed by God to suffer great calamity at the hands of Satan. Satan said he could break Job. God said Job would never break. To prove the point, God allowed Satan to test Job’s faith with undeserved suffering. Things got so bad that at one point Mrs. Job told him to simply curse God and die (Job 2:9). Job did not curse God and die, though. His faith and his integrity could not be broken. That which did not kill Job made him stronger. Job could have said it, but he didn’t.
James takes this thinking even farther (James 1:2-8) saying, “… whenever you face trials of any kind consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance… so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” That doesn’t sound terribly comforting. I have never used that in pastoral counseling. But there is wisdom in those words. Maybe not a lot of comfort, but wisdom. Most people believe Nietzsche was an atheist. I can’t help but think he might agree with James, though. Testing might break us. Or it can make us stronger.
It seems unnatural to consider our trials nothing but joy. But this is an affirmation of life. It is an affirmation of faith. I watched the presidential debate last night. It was very disconcerting. I have been preaching to a camera for months. We are thirty-five days out from the election. The COVID-19 death toll is seventy-two times that of the 9/11 attacks and climbing. This is a liminal time. I don’t know how long it will last. I know it cannot last forever. I have resolved to face the future unafraid, with endurance, trusting that God is on the side of life, of hope, of love, and of justice. Persevere, brothers and sisters. We will be better, stronger, and more faithful when this liminal time is past.
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