God Doesn’t Give You More Than You Can Handle? Really?
Jeff: Every year in the United States we celebrate the birth of our nation.
And when do we celebrate?
The 4th of July!
My family celebrates in Edinboro, PA where there is a bike parade, swim races, food trucks and fireworks.
Always on the 4th.
And why shouldn’t we?
That was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, right?
Well, not really.
The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and given to the Continental Congress on July 1.
It was discussed and amended and ratified on July 2.
It was not actually signed by anyone until August 2, though five delegates signed it on a later date and two never signed it at all.
Sam Adams, one of the delegates, thought the date to celebrate should be July 2.
The reason we celebrate on the 4th is simply because the signed copy bears that date.
But we don’t care.
Try and tell someone that we have the date wrong and they will think you are nuts!
We like the 4th of July and that’s that!
Don’t spoil it with historical details.
And that’s just a national holiday.
What do we do when someone says the Bible does not say what we think it says?
I mean, trying to tell someone that a well-loved Bible saying is not really in the Bible is at all not well received.
Folks will fight with you on that tooth and nail.
The hold on tight to those beloved Bible memes they can repeat or post or tweet or whatever when they think someone needs to hear something “inspirational” from the Bible.
Not only do you risk ridicule, you might be called a heretic or worse, a purveyor of “fake news”.
Nevertheless, at the risk of accusations of heresy or the purveying of fake news, we will be talking, over the next few weeks, about things we think the Bible says, but in reality doesn’t.
And today we start with this well-loved Bible saying:
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Who here has not heard that?
Or said that?
Well, as nice as that sounds, and as often as we hear it as a form of encouragement, the Bible simply does not say it.
Matt: Wait a minute Pastor Jeff.
Sure, it does.
I tell folks that who are going thorough difficult times in their lives all the time!
1 Corinthians 10: 13.
What do you say?
Matt: I tell them that no matter how bad things are in their lives, God will not give them more than they can handle.
Jeff: Let’s assume for a moment the Bible says that, do you think these suffering people find that … helpful?
They should be inspired!
Do they like the idea that God has given them these things they need to handle?
That does not seem comforting.
And what does “handle” mean?
Does that mean that they should be able to “buck up” with a “stiff upper lip” despite their current troubles or tragedies?
Do they say, “Thanks, Matt. I can get through it now because of what you said.”
And what if they can’t handle it?
Does that mean God just does not care about them?
What do they do then?
Where is their inspiration?
Where is their encouragement?
Where is their hope?
Matt: I don’t really know about that but I do know that the Bible says it so it must be true.
Jeff: Well, let’s take a look at where we find that verse you cited.
It comes from:
1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
10I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
6 Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.’ 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No 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.
That last verse.
That’s what I said the Bible said.
God won’t give us more than we can handle.
Jeff: But that is not what this passage means.
What you have done is taken the verse out of context.
If we put it in context, it says something very different.
It says God will not allow us to be tested beyond our strength.
It does not say God tempts us.
Life does that.
What does Paul mean by “tested”?
It has nothing to do with burdens and life’s troubles.
It’s about temptation.
Temptation to idolatry.
Let’s take a look at the entire context of verse 13.
1 Corinthians 10: 1-22 is directed to a group of Christians who are participating in some kind of a celebration of an idol.
Paul likens this to the idolatry practiced by the Israelites in the wilderness that caused them to suffer greatly and that resulted in many deaths to “the people of God”.
This was so even though the Israelites had been “baptized” through the waters of the Red Sea and “spiritually fed” in the form of Manna from heaven and water from a rock.
Despite these blessings, the Israelites rejected God, and many died, even though they understood they had been chosen as the people of God.
Paul then warns the Corinthians that they are heading in that same direction.
While God has invited them into God’s Kingdom and given them the sacraments, they continue to turn away and worship idols.
They have the strength to overcome these temptations, but they choose not to.
That’s what the Israelites did and look what happened to most of them!
Then comes our famous misquote:
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.
Paul does not say God won’t allow us to be tempted or tested.
God assumes we will.
Paul says that God gives us the strength to overcome temptation.
It is up to us to choose to do it.
Paul says the sacraments show us the “way out” of faith trials and temptations.
They show us the right choices.
They are our reminders of who God is and what God has done and so we can choose to turn away from idols.
End of lesson.
So, verse 13 has nothing whatsoever to do with the unbearable burdens and challenges that life throws at us.
In fact, the Bible says something quite different.
Remember what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane?
Jesus went to pray just before his arrest.
He told Peter, James and John:
‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’
Then, he prayed by himself:
‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’
Simply put, Jesus was saying that he could not handle what was coming.
Then, later on the cross, Jesus recited Psalm 22:
1 My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
So, Jesus was suffering.
He could not bear it.
Jesus felt abandoned, forsaken.
What if Peter said to Jesus, “Cheer up! God won’t give you more than you can handle”?
Do we think Jesus would have been comforted?
He’s hanging on a cross!
And while none of us have ever hung on a cross, sometimes we do feel abandoned and forsaken.
At those times how do we react when someone says to us:
“God won’t give you more than you can handle?”
What do we do with that?
How does that inspire us?
How does that encourage us?
To say that God gives you the strength to bear the unbearable makes it sound like God is some sort of a divine anti-depressant or heavenly pain killer.
If we don’t feel any better, is God ignoring us?
“If God can get me through this, why doesn’t God do it?”
Does the divine anti-depressant not work?
Is the heavenly pain killer not strong enough?
Do we need to change medications?
Do we need to change God’s?
I like what Michael Hidalgo, Lead Pastor at Denver Community Church, says:
Recently, I was going back through my journals and I read words I had written years before: “God, I can’t handle this anymore. I don’t know what to do, but I can’t do this.” The circumstances in my life had become overwhelming, everything was crumbling, and my world was falling apart. To be honest, if someone had come alongside me at that point and tried to reassure me by saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” I may have punched them square in the face. That tired, old phrase often sounds more like a taunt than a comfort. When we are down and out and feeling discouraged, hearing those words can cause us to feel like we are not measuring up. It causes us to ask, “If I am supposed to handle this, then why can’t I handle it?” The truth is, God never said He wouldn’t give you more than you can handle. There will be times in life when you will feel like you are drowning and there is no one to help you. The words that are meant for encouragement can often serve to only create discouragement.
That is certainly true, isn’t it?
That’s why I’m a bit relieved that the Bible does not say that.
So, if the Bible does not say God won’t give us more than we can handle, what does the Bible say God promises in the hard times?
Listen to the second part of Psalm 22.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
Despite the fact that life on earth often does give us more than we can handle, Jesus says that we, like those who have come before us, can still trust God, be delivered and not put to shame.
That is what the Bible does say.
So, if we aren’t supposed to tell folks that God won’t give them more than they can handle, what do we say?
Tell them this.
enthroned on the praises of God’s people.
In God our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and God delivered them.
To God they cried, and were saved;
in God they trusted, and were not put to shame.
Tell them there is reason for hope.
Or maybe say nothing.
Maybe we just sit with them, hold their hand and let them vent.
That’s what I do a lot with folks who are troubled.
Just be present.
That is what God promises to do.
God promises to be present.
And to save.
That is why Paul can say this:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Not so God won’t give us more than we can handle.
7[So that] the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
That is what the Bible does say!