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Why Are Christians Antifragile?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Author Nassim Taleb’s bestselling book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, teaches a fundamental lesson. Life is about making oneself antifragile to the random and chaotic events that characterize human existence.

In simple terms, a person’s life is characterized by fragility if unforeseen, random events cause exponentially more harm to the individual, the stronger the event is. Fragility is nonlinear in a negative direction. For example, if a person was faced with a minor financial setback (a loss of $1000), he may respond negatively to that setback, but not suffer a complete breakdown.

If, however, that same person lost all of his wealth at one time, and he did have a complete breakdown, went into a deep depression, maybe became suicidal, then that person is fragile to wealth. The fragile person, when hit with a disaster, implodes.

In opposition to fragility is antifragility. A person’s life is characterized by antifragility if unforeseen, random events cause exponentially more benefit to the individual, the stronger the event is. Antifragility is nonlinear in a positive direction. For example, if a person was faced with a minor financial setback (a loss of $1000), he may respond mildly negatively to that setback, just as the fragile person.

If, however, that same person (who is antifragile) lost all of his wealth at one time, he would respond quite differently than the fragile person. Rather than spiral into self-pity and depression, the antifragile person would benefit greatly from the pain caused by this loss.

Although the Bible doesn’t use the word “antifragile,” this concept can be found in many places. In his letter to the Philipians the apostle Paul rejoices that because of his “chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” Paul sees that his suffering is good for him and those around him. Paul adds that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” In this classic verse, Paul teaches that even death will bring him great benefit, not loss.

In Romans 8, Paul reassures believers who are suffering that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In other words, every time time something bad happens to the Christian, God makes it work ultimately in her favor.

James counsels, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Trials bring great benefits to the believer.

Likewise, Peter reminds us that “even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.”

The follower of Jesus, then, is truly antifragile. Whatever life throws at us, we are guaranteed to benefit from it, if not in this life, then the next. In fact, it seems that the more severe our tests here, the more potential for rewards – nonlinear in a positive direction.

Not so for those who don’t know Christ. For the unbeliever, for the person who has no hope in Christ, his life is ultimately fragile. When things go wrong, there is no benefit, only meaningless pain and suffering. The fragile life is characterized by pain avoidance at any cost. Death is the end and there is no possible benefit from it. The fragile nonbeliever hangs on for dear life, literally, with only the abyss ahead of him.


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Comments

  • Wintery Knight

    This is an excellent post, and that’s why I am always urging Christians to study something hard in college and then start working right away. Building up a nest egg helps you to insulate yourself from tragedy. A good career in mathematics, science, engineering or technology allows you to work in an environment where you don’t have to feel the pressure to conform to secular values in your workplace, while giving you the funding you need to buy books, bring in scholars and fun debates, lectures and conferences. A good education and some savings very important to protecting your faith from unexpected events and pressure. We need to be wise and play defense.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “For the unbeliever, for the person who has no hope in Christ, his life is ultimately fragile. When things go wrong, there is no benefit, only meaningless pain and suffering.”

    For what it’s worth, I know quite a few non-believers who take a “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “No experience is a waste” approach. Quite a few adrenaline-junky, risk-taking “you gotta die sometime” types too – rather than all ‘avoid risk at all costs and cling on for dear life’.

  • bbrown

    Excellent reminder of the radically new understanding of pain and suffering that Christianity affords. Through it all there is growth in maturity, character, and hope. The Christian, of all people, can be bold and unafraid of what people can do to them. See Eric Metaxas’ “Bonhoeffer”, for example.

    –Wm. Brown MD

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    I completely agree. We have told our two teenagers that we will only pay for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) undergrad college degrees for them. After they get a STEM degree, they can do whatever they want for a career or for graduate school.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    I agree that Bonhoeffer’s life is a great example of the antifragility of Christian life. The more Bonhoeffer was in danger from the Nazi’s, the more courageous he became.

  • bbrown

    I was particularly impressed by how clearly Bonhoeffer saw the true nature of the evil that was coming at a very young age and very early on. And that, despite the overwhelming and often subtle propaganda that saturated the German culture at the time. He was so well grounded in the gospels and in Christ that his vision was remarkably clear.

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