If it doesn't kill us, does it really make us stronger?


What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

By Glenn Morison of Winnipeg (Glenn is a retired United Church minister, prison chaplain and author)

This oft-quoted phrase is attributed to philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He sets out a number of maxims in his 1888 essay, Twilights of the Idols. His essay was described on the cover of the Oxford University House printing as a “declaration of war…on eternal idols,” and suggests how “we confuse our pleasure…for truth.” Phrases such as this one reflect “our desire to be rid of… unpleasant uncertainty” such as whether or not suffering will lead to strength or to further suffering, pain or even death. Nietzsche was cynical and critical of this phrase and yet his words have been grabbed and reoffered by many as if he had spoken it as wisdom and truth. Nietzsche aside, adhering to this belief sustains many through difficult times. Although often used my inmates in perilous situations, it is often has a short question at the end. Right?  It is as if they are saying it and hoping it will true rather than believing or trusting that it is.  

1 Peter 5:10 

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.

The main problem with the phrase above is that some things do kill us. Pain is often a warning to us to choose another path. For example, we learn not to touch hot stoves by touching a hot stove once. It doesn't kill us, and while the knowledge that a hot stove can burn us could “make us stronger” there are usually other ways to achieve such ends. I knew a woman with a genetic abnormality causing her to lack feeling in her extremities. Because of this she had broken every one of her fingers and toes, and had burned herself on countless occasions. She longed for the pain and suffering that would protect her. The biblical message is to never think suffering is its own end nor ought we take pride false pride in suffering While we read that Christ will “restore, support, strengthen and establish”. We should be careful not to pretend we fully understand how we might experience that in any given situation.