In times of trial, difficulty, and suffering, sincere Christians will not hesitate to lay a comforting hand on the shoulder of those they love and assure them that God will never give them more than they can handle. It is meant to be a pep talk. But what they’re really saying at that moment is: “You can do this!” or “You’ve got this!” or “Just keep on keeping on!” So, while offering some encouragement to someone going through a hard time is a good and noble thing to do, if you have ever used the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle” to offer that encouragement, take a moment to say a quick prayer of better understanding!

The saying that God will never give you more than you can handle isn’t from the Bible. And yet, its origin is in the Bible. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so you can endure.”[1]

Careful readers of scripture will note that Paul IS NOT saying we can handle every situation and circumstance thrown our way. Instead, he says there are no overwhelming trials or traps designed to prove our faith in Him and that God will allow without providing a way for us to overcome it victoriously. However, Paul doesn’t go any further than that. When we take Paul’s words about trials and traps and apply them to suffering more generally, we arrive at the idea that “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Although well-intended, this is a misreading of the Bible’s teaching. The Message Translation puts it this way, “ No test or trap set in 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.”

Just imagine this scene adapted from Genesis: God looks down at the world and is upset by humankind’s wickedness. So, God determines the best course of action is to start over. Noah and his family are deemed righteous by God and so are given instructions to build an ark. They do just as God commands. After Noah assembles all those animals he’s famously pictured with, the heavens open, and the rain starts pouring down. Finally, Noah and his family enter the ark, closing the door behind them. The waters rise and rise and rise.

So, let us imagine, several days into their voyage, Noah looks over the edge of the ark, where he sees a lone man standing on what used to be a mountaintop. At this point, however, all but the man’s head are submerged in water. The man cries out for Noah to save him. Noah replies, “Don’t worry, God will never give you more than you can handle.” Then the man disappears beneath the flood waters. While this is an imaginary example, the truth is that the Bible is full of stories about people who are faced with circumstances that they cannot handle and, in some cases, are overcome by them.

The Bible brings together two seemingly incompatible ideas: God’s unwavering love for us that works all things for good on the one hand.[2] And on the other hand, bad things do happen to us – sometimes beyond our capacity to deal with them. This tension is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in the inspiring words in the book of Romans, in which the Apostle Paul boldly proclaims that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus while at the same time pointing to circumstances that will cause us to question that love.[3]

In some cases, when we experience hardship, we can see how some good came out of it. Perhaps we were prideful. We were vain. We were hard of heart. We had deluded ourselves into believing we could do it all on our own. And now, on the other side of that hardship, that pride, that hardness of heart, that pretense of self-reliance has been stripped away. Maybe we found a reservoir of strength within us that we didn’t know was there. But most of the time, we have no idea how any good is brought about through the hardship and suffering we endure. We experience trauma, get a frightful diagnosis, our relationships crumble, and people we love die. And we cannot see, imagine, or even begin to fathom how any good can come of it.

In those moments, we are like the disciples, standing at the foot of the cross looking up at the Savior’s dead and bloody body, unable to believe that Jesus could possibly recover from this situation. But the courageous faith of the Bible is a faith that says if God can redeem us through Jesus’s death on the cross, if God pulls life and light and salvation from an instrument of torture and execution, then there is no situation or circumstance on earth that God cannot redeem even if we can’t see how.

And the beautiful thing about that kind of faith is that it sets us free. It frees us so that when we see a loved one going through a hard time, we don’t have to pretend to see a silver cloud in their suffering. We don’t have to pretend we have God’s view of the situation and assure them they can fully handle the burden pressing them down. Quite frankly, it’s possible they can’t. Rather, a trusting faith like this frees us just to say, “Wow, that must be hard. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But can I sit with you in that hard place? Can I help pray you through this? May I accompany you through this dark valley until we reach the other side together?” Not just me, but also Jesus will walk with us. May it be so!

[1] 1 Corinthians 10:13 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[2] Romans 8:28

[3] Ibid. 8:31-39

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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