Biblical text: I Corinthians 10:13
New Revised Standard Version
So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. . 13 No testing has overtaken you that 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.
Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence. 13 No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.
A man was left with three children to raise when his wife left them. Naturally, he was in shock and without family nearby he struggled to find childcare for the littlest one as well as afterschool care for the older two. He was exhausted each day after meal prep, baths, school lunches, laundry, and more. You know—life stuff. He needed to do everything without the woman who had once been by his side but her mental illness, a challenge for them as a couple, had now become hers to manage on her own, out on the streets from what he had heard about her fate.
One night in a phone call to a college friend he almost screamed this out. “If God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, then how come I can’t handle this? I don’t know how to go on.” Then he began to weep.
I’ve always been a Star Trek fan. An entertainment culture catchphrase is “Beam me up, Scotty,” referring to Captain Kirk often asking his Chief Engineer to get him off some planet or away from a threat through teleportation ASAP. Do you know that Kirk never said that? Not even once. So it is with Christian clichés. People believe them because they hear them often enough, that it must be true, right? Today’s cliché is one of the top ones, God Will Never Give You More than You Can Handle.
It is often used as advice and counsel to someone who is going through a rough patch. It is meant to bring them comfort, but does it?
There are some problems with this cliché. For one, it is not in the Bible. Nope, it is not! There is something like it in I Corinthians, chapter 10. No testing has overtaken you that 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.
Now is testing the same as God giving you suffering? I certainly don’t think so. St Paul writes to the people in the congregation at Corinth about temptation, notably for them the temptation to act in an unloving manner, or to go back to their previous pagan ways of worship, eating, and relationships. Christ has shown them a different life—one based on his greatest commandment—to love one another. So when such a temptation to live other than Christ comes their way, Paul tells them God will help them through it.
Paul likely is also noting that life brings with it hard times that are common to everyone. I like how the translator for the Bible called The Message puts it. No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.
Both of these ways of interpreting the passage are far different than God GIVING you a problem or some suffering. Who would trust a God like that, choosing to test you for God’s own what? Enjoyment to watch how you react? No wonder that father cried in despair feeling as if God had sent the mental illness to his wife as a test for him.
Happily, there are passages in the Bible that are opposite to today’s cliché. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 Paul wrote, We don’t want you to be unaware of the troubles that we went though in Asia. We were weighed down with a load of suffering that was so far beyond our strength that we were afraid we might not survive. That is very different than saying God doesn’t give us any burdens that we could not handle. They thought they would die!
Psalm 38:4 says My wrongdoings are stacked higher than my head; they are a weight that’s way too heavy for me. In fact, in reading the Psalms you see how often people felt overwhelmed by what was happening to them. Or think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane sweating blood due to the fact of the suffering that was to come his way. Or on the cross feeling as if God had forsaken him.
This cliché certainly suggests that God is giving you the pain and suffering. But God did not give it to Jesus, to the psalmists, or to you. Martin Luther wrote that suffering generally comes from the following three places: evil, the world, and our own sin.
God Will Never Give You More than You Can Handle . . .
Tell that to a survivor of Auschwitz.
Tell that to the family whose teenager died from Covid 19 when young people were supposed to be able to have mild symptoms.
Tell that to the little girl who lost her innocence when she was sexually abused.
Tell that to the young man who was kicked out of his home because he is gay.
This cliché will not stand in a world that is not as it should be. Paul tells us in Romans that creation is broken. When Paul and his company thought they would die he told his readers this. We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. (The Message)
In a broken world where suffering happens, our faith gives us courage and strength, and even hope. God can raise us up from any death experience we encounter. I know it to be true. After I had an emotional breakdown and lost all sense of God I eventually found that God, however, did not lose me!
At the Council of Nicaea in 325 BC, at which the Christian Nicene Creed was formulated, it has been said that of the 318 delegates, most had lost an eye or a hand or limped due to torture they had endured because of their faith in Christ. Yet, there they were living testimony that God had helped them persevere.
Dr. A. Purnell Bailey who died in 2006 wrote a religious column for 66 years called Our Daily Bread. Here’s one of his best. “I once visited an orange grove where an irrigation pump had broken down. The season was unusually dry and some of the trees were beginning to die for lack of water. The man giving the tour then took me to his own orchard where irrigation was used sparingly. “These trees could go without rain for another 2 weeks,” he said. “You see, when they were young, I frequently kept water from them. This hardship caused them to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of moisture. Now mine are the deepest-rooted trees in the area. While others are being scorched by the sun, these are finding moisture at a greater depth.” www.sermonilllustrations.com].
What this says to me is that when we are faced with something too hard to handle, something that is depriving us of the waters of life, God is there. God is guiding and coaxing those roots. They get deeper and your tree—yourself—remains able to deal with the temporary arid conditions you are experiencing.
I would enjoy dialogue with you on this subject when you leave a comment!
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson