Kelly Clarkson’s current #1 song is called “Stronger”; its catchy hook revolves around that common but somewhat peculiar phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
This song has recently come to the attention of my daughter Sarah. We were discussing it over dinner the other night, and I joked about a line from the TV show Modern Family, in which the character Manny points out that this phrase simply isn’t true: “Many diseases leave people permanently disabled without killing them.” It’s a comic line in the show, but it’s a good point. Many of our common phrases, while they may have some basis in truth, aren’t at all universally applicable.
Then Sarah said, “What about Star Wars? Obi-Wan Kenobi said, ‘If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.’ And that was true!” I smiled, because I remember my parents comparing Obi-Wan Kenobi to Jesus when I was Sarah's age. (I don't know if she has made that connection yet, but I'll let her put it together herself.)
Sarah helped me understand that this common phrase has it backward. From a Star Wars perspective—and, by extension, from a Christian perspective—the phrase should be “What kills you makes you stronger.” You can’t get to resurrection without going through death first. To cast it in another mythological image, the phoenix rises from the ashes—not from a third-degree burn.
“What kills you makes you stronger.” This doesn’t need to refer merely to bodily death. Every day somebody’s hopes fail, something precious ends, and life goes on, with God always creating new possibilities we just can’t imagine yet. The death of anything we love really, truly, deeply hurts. But it's not the end.
This is why the Christian call is never to give up on anybody, ever, no matter what—and never to give up on our own lives, either. Even when we, in our fallibility, give up, God does not. God keeps hoping; the Holy Spirit prays the prayers we cannot.