ThoughtShades FrameWork

Essays, Themes, Opinions

Constructs, Practical Ideas, Applications

Poetry, Impression Writing

Sermons, Devotions

Personal Revelations, Illustrations

Viewpoint: Politics, Contemporary Issues, Editorials


Choice Offerings by Others

Powered by Squarespace
« The Gray Swan of Newtown | Main | Blessed Christmas in Christ »

Antifragilistic Concepts in the Bible

In his new book, Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term, antifragile, to supply a word that means the opposite of fragile, evidently missing from every language and vocabulary in existence.  (No, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious doesn’t quite work.)  He reasoned that a fragile object that suffers stress or attack will probably sustain some degree of damage, but the opposite effect cannot be fully expressed by any known word.  The terms, strong or robust are inadequate because a strong or robust object under stress does not get better.  The logic is simple: an object attacked that results in upgrade or improvement is more than just robust or strong.  It is…well, the opposite of fragile:  antifragile! 

Academic or egghead-speak?  No.  The implications are profound.  Antifragile objects, or ideas, or even persons, do not worsen under attack or stress.  They get better!  Randomness, chaos, or any event normally thought to be tragic, actually transforms the antifragile into something better than it was before!  In fact, rather than fearing or avoiding stress, we ought to welcome it.  We should seek stressful circumstances out—or at least allow them to happen—for the very purpose of improving the status quo!  Taleb documents myriad facts from science, politics, economics, culture and much more to validate his theory.  For example, he shows that a bad review of a book is so beneficial to a writer that some have even paid critics to trash their work.  He also illustrates his point by referring to physical exercise (stressors) as a necessary practice in order to build muscle and strengthen bones.  It’s use it or lose it! 

Right away, the spiritual application of this idea became manifest in my mind.  This is precisely how God has designed the church!  Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Prevail in the Greek is katisxuo, meaning overpower.  Under the strongest attack by its worst enemy, the church will demonstrate superior power.  Every time Satan assaults the church, it shows the world that it is always stronger!  Case in point is the persecution that began in Acts chapter four.  Flight from Jerusalem did not administer a death blow to the church; it only stoked the fires of revival and growth!  In an Old Testament illustration, the response of Joseph to his brothers, many years after they sold him into slavery, captures the essence of antifragility.  “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.  Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.” (Genesis 50:20-21).  The negative birthed the positive. 

Although they are not labeled as such, antifragile concepts abound in the Bible.  The resiliency displayed by biblical heroes (Elijah vs. prophets of Baal), the paradoxical situations in which good triumphs over evil despite enormous odds (David vs. Goliath), the distilled wisdom of Solomon’s proverbs and the teachings of Jesus that militate against the conventional philosophies of the day are all based on the irony of antifragilism.  Some have questioned why Jesus told people not to talk about His miracles.  Why?  Because He knew that information is extremely antifragile.  Suppressing the news was the surest way to broadcast it to the world.  Consider the following principles in this light. 

The way to receive is to give.  This principle surfaces over and over in Bible expositions.  Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.  He then states the case directly in an amazing piece of illogic.  Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” Luke 6:38.  Selling or lending your goods seems to be the logical way to increase your profits, but giving away what you have depletes your resources.  Yet, the Scriptures declare that giving opens up the avenue of revenue.  Instead of fragile, we should think of our pocket books as antifragile.  They get bigger by making them smaller.

The way to honor is through humility.  In the Scriptures, those who schemed their way into honor and notoriety usually fell flat on their faces.  Haman, the vile snake who threatened to wipe out the Jewish race, and tried to draw the righteous Mordecai into his intrigues by building a gallows on which to hang him, met his own fate on those very gallows.  Haman’s pomposity backfired, and Mordecai’s humility was rewarded with the same honor that Haman sought for himself.  Haman represents an ilk Taleb calls “fragilistas.”  Their prediction of success rests upon the chance of nothing going wrong; they are invested into an impossibly narrow—and thus fragile—set of circumstances.  Mordecai, on the other hand, invested in a simple character trait of humility.  Swallow hard, but, in the strictest definition of success, he would have won regardless of the outcome because even hanging by the neck would not have damaged his character!  Similar scenarios were repeated in the lives of Daniel, David, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and others.  James sums it up in his epistle.  Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” James 4:5-6.   

The way to triumph is through trial.  Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den, and his compatriots, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were thrown into a fiery furnace perfectly represent this principle.  Conventional wisdom dictated to each of them that the disastrous consequences of their actions would surely destroy them.  Instead, they not only survived their ordeal, their fortunes prospered beyond their wildest dreams.  Most of us tend to avoid anything painful or unpleasant, even going to extreme measures to exempt ourselves from trials.  Some resort to deception, cheating or criminal behavior so they can escape trials, totally ignoring the fact that the absence of trying experiences makes them far more fragile in their vocation, career or life itself.  If you are too fragile to be tested, you are too fragile to survive! 

This is the message of the Apostle Peter.  “Dear friends, don’t be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. Instead, be really glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it will be displayed… But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being in Christ’s family and being called by his wonderful name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we who are Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed in the Lord? If the righteous are barely saved, what chance will the godless have? So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you.” 1 Peter 4:12-19 (TLB)

Following are a few more illustrations of antifragilistic principles readily found in the Bible.  Anyone with a modicum of scriptural knowledge can flesh them out in actual verses or in biographical sketches of bible characters.  (I’ll add a few hints to get you started). 

  • The way to exaltation is through submission.  (Matthew 23:1-12)
  • The way to beauty is through holiness.  (Psalm 96:1-9)
  • The way to blessing is through sacrifice.  (Romans 12:1-2)
  • The way to increase is decrease (i.e. pruning).  (John 15:1-2)
  • The way to fullness is through deprivation.  (2 Corinthians 8:7-15)
  • The way to win is to lose.  (Luke 9:24)
  • The way to life is through death.  (John 12:24-26)

In sports, there is a point in time when the game strategy may shift from playing to win to playing not to lose.  Almost any coach will tell you, however, that a deliberate curbing of aggressiveness dampens the morale of the team, or of one’s own morale in individual sports.  Alan Weiss, a top business consultant, says,   “NO ONE grows or gains respect by trying ‘not to lose.’ You appear to be weak, hesitant, afraid, and vulnerable to pressure and demands. You allow others to gain momentum which will overcome and surpass your own negative inertia.  The world is not for the safe or faint-of-heart. We are not here to stick our toes in the water, but to make waves. We need to be bold, innovative, and assertive. No risk, no reward.”

When common sense and market awareness dictate a conservative strategy, it’s fine.  When it is a reaction of fear and dread, however, it is a losing strategy.  The more self-absorbed we become, the more we attempt to protect ourselves against loss in the normal give and take of life, the more fragile we become.  Fragility will inevitably meet with stress (storm, earthquake, recession, injury, disease, tragedy, accident, etc.)  When it does, it can only result in degradation.  On the other hand, when we see that same stressful event as an opportunity for growth and advancement, we eliminate the fear factor and end up as a gainer or beneficiary.  Our trials, not our blessings make us better people!

An antifragile attitude is based primarily on absolute trust in God.  It is not carelessness, but carefulness to let God be God that fuels our success. 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>