There is a saying in Christendom that goes something like this “God will never give you more than you can handle”. This is a mantra that is repeated over and over as a way of building up the willpower to overcome an especially difficult situation. As it were, there is a struggle and a weight that exists inside people as the burdens of this world begin to accumulate. It might be anything- the loss of a loved one, the loss of employment. Broken relationships. Divorce. Death. Desertion. The consequences for private sins and the harping of the devil. For those suffering, whatever it is- physical, emotional or spiritual- heartache rips at them. Sorrow fills them. Uncertainty bids them. Stress cripples the mind and things once firm and decided begin to shudder and crumble. In those moments of personal pain, people with good intentions might offer the reassurance to the one hurting “God will never place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot carry it.”
That might seem reassuring and spiritual sounding, but more often than not it is unhelpful at best and biblically suspect at worst. Why? because this is not a legitimate promise of God. It is a promise that many people believe is there, but sadly are mistaken and the word of God offers us no such false condolences.
What the scripture does say in context, is “Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
[1 Corinthians 10:7-14 ESV]
The aforementioned verse is a legitimate promise of God that we can stand firm in, but that promise does not say that God will never give us more than we can handle in this life. Instead this word is speaking about temptations, speaking specifically about our innate ability to turn everything good that God has made into an idol which we then bow down to in though, word and deed. We have a propensity to idolize things that we ought not to. We misuse sex, food, sport, music and pleasure and make those things our gods. We are by nature idolaters, and so we need to be on guard and take great care that we do not inavertedly walk in this. We must take care to ensure that we are not lulled into complacency by our own prideful assessment of our ability to resist and fall prey. These verses are not about situational hardships that we go through in life, but rather they are about being tempted from sin and the flesh.
So that verse isn’t saying what people like it to say, so what then do we may of this quote? When we find ourselves unable to live up to the expectation that we must endure hardships because they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t surmountable on our own, we either grow bitter or we despair. The bitter man is the Christian who believes there is a promise from God that says they will never have to endure anything beyond their ability to handle. And yet when he has an event happen in his life that he can’t handle, from that moment they quit trusting God and grow disillusioned and disappointed. The rational is this- if God lied about this and broke this promise, how can I ever trust anything He says? That’s one possibility. The second possibility is despair- “God will never give me more than I can handle, and yet I can’t handle this.” What must that say to the person about their relationship with God? That they are a failure who isn’t spiritual or strong enough. That their fragility is weakness and their inability is insufficiency. There is a sense of “What is wrong with me that I can’t endure, that I can’t handle these trials that I’m supposed to be able to handle”? which leads to despondence.
And yet God’s word is clear that we will have trials that we cannot handle- that we will brush right up against the agonies that result from this contorted, fallen world. St Paul writes “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. [2 Corinthians. 1:8-9 ]
And so what is the answer? When we walk through the hardships of this world. When we suffer loss and become at a loss ourselves. When we are tormented and attacked and when we can hardly breath or think straight because we are overwhelmed by our circumstances and by the stains of our sins and the sins of others in our life, we read the rest of the verses. “Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death…..But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”
God gives us more than we can handle so that we will rely on him. All things direct us to him and his work. The promise is not a perpetual conquering based on our own abilities and fortitude. We are not told to grimace and through sheer force of will bear the burdens on our own- that will only produce pride in ourselves for our ability to endure. Rather, our inability to endure shows that only Christ Jesus is able to sustain us. It might be paralleled to the work and function of the law, which in our inability to perfectly keep it we see our need for a saviour who has kept it for us. For this reason, a more accurate statement might be that “God will never give us more than He can handle for us”
We need to know that in the face of hardships and burdens that it is ok to feel crushed, desperate and helpless. It is ok to feel weak and poor and unable. It is ok to have to swallow back a sob and feel that embarrassed aloneness when you realize that this is not something that you can do on your own. Because that points us to Christ. That drives us to Him who is always strong, always powerful, always unfailing full of grace.
To quote Greg Lucas “My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the crushing weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. “My power is made perfect in your weakness,” He says, as we strain under our burden. Whatever the burden, it might indeed get worse, but I know this–God is faithful. And while we change and get old, He does not. When we get weaker, He remains strong. And in our weakness and humility, He offers us true, lasting, transforming and undeserved grace.”