Writer, businessman, and educator Nassim Nicholas Taleb gets the credit for coining the term ‘antifragile’ in his 2014 book of the same name. As Taleb describes it, ‘antifragile’ is that property of systems in which the capacity to thrive actually increases whenever external difficulties, pressures, or even pains are applied.
Antifragile is different from resiliency or endurance, in that those characteristics only measure the amount of pressure something can repeatedly take. If that something were antifragile, however, it would actually get stronger because of the difficulty.
Examples of antifragility include boat planking that bends in conformity to a boat’s curves and becomes stronger, your muscles getting more explosive because you did not skip leg day, Silicon Valley getting more creative after software fails, and your heart increasing in efficiency after training for that marathon. In other words, to quote Nietzsche or Kelly Clarkson, depending on your questionable scholar of choice, “whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.”
As great as it sounds, antifragility is increasingly lean these days. More and more examiners of our culture bemoan, instead of antifragility, a brittleness that has seeped into the West. Intolerant of differences, words are viewed as violence, debates as toxic, and disagreements as assaults on self-sovereignty. The concept of trauma is bloated to now include anything that’s done against individual ‘truths,’ and the obsession with eliminating threats, both real and perceived, celebrates the title of ‘victim’ whenever it’s convenient to do so. In short, fragility reigns.
Intolerant of differences, words are viewed as violence, debates as toxic, and disagreements as assaults on self-sovereignty.
Looking to Scripture, if there was anyone who was qualified for the title of ‘victim,’ Paul would certainly be in the running. Speaking often to his experience of gain from loss, and strength from pain he puts it well in words. One particular gem the Church has long been drawn to is found in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10:
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
Led into difficulties, at a loss for what to do, suffering harassment and even blows on account of the faith he heralded, Paul was profoundly, powerfully antifragile. Unbroken, undaunted, and unashamed, rather than sway the apostle from his course, these pains and difficulties only served to harden his resolve to obey and follow the Lord into whatever lay ahead, which usually that meant more of the same.
And of course, it’s not just Paul who’s been this way. Thousands of years of church history offer to us many thousand more who are of similar stock. Men and women forsaken by the world, pressed under innumerable weights, carrying not only personal affliction and trial, but also being forced to bear with the difficult providences of God in hostile cultures, wars, famines, and plagues.
Difficulties and sufferings that can be unimaginable to our modern ears, and yet antifragile as they were, their faith steeled them to their real and future hope in Christ. The more life threw at them, the more their grip strengthened. Whatever didn’t kill them, made them stronger.
Meekness as Antifragile
The meek Christian is the truest form of antifragility that can be found. Even the one who looks back at you in the mirror is cut from the same cloth. It may not seem like or feel like it on most days, but he or she is actually becoming more and more unbreakable with every pain that life can muster.
The reason for this transformation is just as simple: We are not the source of our strength.
Paul again makes it clear where our antifragility comes from just one verse earlier when he reveals that, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). It is God himself dear Christian, who is building you into this. It is God himself who will bring you to your glorious completion.
Transforming you by His Spirit through good and pain, bracing you against the difficulties of life and hardening you along the way, this is just one more way He has shed his limitless love upon you. You may look weak, you may even feel it deep within, but like a clay pot filled with concrete, you are anything but fragile. The days ahead of you may be more even more challenging than you can conceive, but do not lose heart, with every trial you are only growing stronger by His grace at work within you.
His grace is sufficient for you, and his power made perfect in your weakness.