God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle?
This is the second installment of our sermon series about Christian sayings with a kernel of truth, but don’t take them too far. We hope this series will help you clarify your thinking about God and help you offer better answers when people around you are in need.
Has anyone ever told you, “God will never give you more than you can handle?” Have you ever told it to someone else?
It feels true.
It was a huge relief the first time I heard someone say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” The preacher at our college chapel worship service. I was still in the midst of a year and a half of hell, where one life-changing tragedy after another slammed down on me like an avalanche. His promise sounded like the end of horribleness was in sight because I was just about starting to break. I needed to soldier on until the avalanche subsided.
The preacher said that God gives us hardships, so we will learn to rely on him instead of just our own resources. He talked of how forging steel is similar to how God refines and shapes us by putting us in the furnace of bad things to deal with. He implied that we should take it as a compliment when lots of bad things happen because it means that God is forging us for important work ahead.
For me, it worked. Boulders stopped crashing in on me a few months after the service, and things improved. I felt I could handle whatever life threw at me because my faith and character had been severely tested.
Because it worked for me in my limited life experience, I was eager to tell people that God wouldn’t give them more than they could handle. After a while, I noticed that it seemed polite to tell people to quit whining and suck it up. That worked, too. They stopped talking to me about their problems, which I misinterpreted as a “win.”
When Things Began to Change
I was all in on team “God won’t give you more than you can handle” until a close friend committed suicide. Somehow he had more than he felt he could handle. Had I seemed closed off to him, is that why he never let on to me what was really going on?
Sometimes, when we don’t know what to say, we throw around the religious slogans we are addressing in this sermon series. But they are not always helpful, nor are they fully the truth. Even though we do not mean any harm, these sayings occasionally cause harm depending on how the other person interprets them.
For example, if someone feels overwhelmed by their problems, they may hear, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and not seek the help they need because they think they are just supposed to suck it up and Lone Ranger their way through. Or they believe that something is wrong with their faith since they feel overwhelmed or that God must be against them. You never know how people interpret these things, which may cause more harm than good.
All y’all, instead of Lone Rangering It
Even if you were to read this passage as God won’t give you more than you can handle, keep in mind that the you he is referring to is plural. To the contrary, Paul isn’t telling individuals to handle it by themselves. Think of Southerners with their great phrases, “y’all” and “all y’all.” Try reading it like this: A’yall, aren’t going to get more that all y’all can get through together.
We have resources for each other, counselors, the community, church. People in your path.
God provides us a way to endure, most often through wisdom, encouragement, and love from individuals and communities with their well-developed capacities for endurance.
God is not the source of bad things and our suffering.
I think Jesus offers a different image of God than the one our cliché evokes. Jesus doesn’t portray God as dealing out pain and suffering, causing evil things to happen to teach us some lesson or to test us to our limits. Instead, Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary or heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The prophet Isaiah (talking about people) said that God won’t break a bruised reed. Jesus offered us a whole different image of God that subverts the notion of God as the source of hardship and pain.
Let’s look at this saying based on 1 Corinthians 10:13.
No testing has overtaken you, which is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing, he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
First, we notice that the Bible doesn’t say it quite how we say it. It feels like it is addressing something other than God pushing you to your breaking point to make us stronger.
We always look at a passage’s larger context. When you look at the verses surrounding our verse, we see that the subject line is idolatry. Look at the next verse: Therefore, my beloved, flee from the worship of idols. Paul was addressing people who had recently converted from paganism and told them to avoid temptations to revert to their old practices and lifestyles, including worship of idols.
Although you probably don’t have much temptation to worship a little statue, we should acknowledge that anything we put as our ultimate concern in life is an idol. It can be money, security, influence, or anything displacing God in our lives.
Next, it talks about being tested instead of giving us more than we can bear. The Greek word here is the same word the Bible used when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and when Jesus taught us to pray, “lead us not into temptation.”
Does God lead us into temptation?
Have you ever wondered if that’s how it works, that unless we ask God not to do it, the divine inclination is to lead us into temptation? Does that make any sense? I once heard someone say it makes a difference where he puts the coma. If you say it the way we usually say, “Lead us not into temptation, but….” It sounds one way. It sounds another way if you put the pause in a different place. “Lead us, not into temptation.” The idea is that we are asking God to lead us, that we will follow the ways of goodness and life. Lead us, not into temptation where we’d wind up ourselves, but in a different path.
A way out of temptation.
Finally, the passage discusses God providing “a way out” of our temptations. What’s up with that? The way out may be found in getting the help you need. It may be in the rhythm of regular worship or finding a peaceful center in nature. When we set good patterns and fill our lives with good things, following the way Jesus told us to live, we get fixated on those things and distracted from those that might otherwise tempt us.
God provides an escape from temptations. Scientific research (refer to sermon on Temptation) shows being busy with other things helps. And building healthy habits keep you on the right road. If it becomes second nature, the temptation for other things dissipates. God gives you time. Often your resilience increases with a not now instead of never. I’m not going to do that right now. Often waiting a few hours will take the edge off the temptation.
What to say instead of platitudes?
- Instead of a platitude, how can I help?
- Instead of platitude, cliché, hang in and listen. People aren’t looking for you to solve their problem, but knowing that they are not alone gives great comfort.
Instead of a platitude: God will help you handle whatever comes at you. Makes God the advocate, the helper, instead of the enemy.