Recently, the world has had much to say about antifragility. Nassim Nicholas Talib coined the term “antifragile” to describe the opposite of something fragile. A fragile thing breaks under stress. And a resilient thing endures through stress. But what about a thing that grows stronger from stress? According to Talib, that thing is antifragile.
The Bible recognizes yet also reorients this idea of antifragility. Scripture recognizes antifragility when stating that suffering can strengthen us. Specifically, the Bible talks about faith as something that grows stronger through suffering. Paul says that Christians know that “suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3-4). Peter compares the “tested genuineness of our faith” to fire purifying gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). James is perhaps most direct, though, when he describes how Christians should think about life’s trials:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Trials that test one’s faith produce steadfastness in Christians. Similar to the human immune system, faith can grow stronger when it encounters trials. Or, as Paul says, “suffering produces steadfastness” (Romans 5:3-4). Through testing, our faith becomes stronger; it becomes more steadfast, more capable of ὑπομονή or ‘patient endurance.’
You can see the similarities between antifragility and steadfastness. Yet, Christian steadfastness is not simply antifragility. The Bible does not merely venerate strength or antifragility. Yes, our faith is what grows stronger. Yet, Christian faith is inherently oriented toward something else. You have faith in something or someone. Therefore, to describe the steadfastness of one’s faith is to describe an increasing capacity to trust-in and rely-on someone or something other than yourself.
And, according to James, what becomes stronger is not our faith in ourselves but our faith in God. Trials teach Christians that they cannot trust in themselves but must trust in God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, suffering diminishes self-reliance and increases God-reliance. Therefore, Christian steadfastness looks like the paradox Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [thorn], that it should leave me. But he [Jesus] 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. 10 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.”
Christians are both happy and content with weakness. Why? Because in our weakness God’s power is made perfect in us. This is why Christian steadfastness is more than antifragility. Christian flourishing, as Andy Crouch has argued, means that we are both strong and weak. Christian steadfastness, then, looks like “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The goal of steadfastness is for us to “be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” And what every human needs to be perfect and complete is happiness in God. Self-reliance says, “I can make myself happy.” God-reliance says, “Jesus, only you can make me happy.” So the reason the Christian counts it all joy when they encounter trials of various kinds is because those trials will produce a steadfast faith that seeks ultimate happiness in God. Scripture reorients our estimation of suffering beyond the end of antifragility to the greater, higher end of happiness in God.
Prof. Zach Howard, MDiv
Director of College Programs & Assistant Professor of Theology and Humanities
- Pray for our students and faculty as they begin classes on Monday.
- Pray that the Lord would make all of us steadfast and God-reliant.
- Pray for the filling of the Alex Steddom International Student Fund such that we may invite a new seminarian in Fall 2022.