God Won’t Give Us More Than We Can Handle?
Some dear friends at church are going through a stretch that is the stuff of nightmares. Over the past few months, it’s been one brutal thing after another, and it just keeps coming. She posted on Facebook today, “Saying goes, God only gives you what you can handle…… Please God we have hit our max. Can we have a break now?”
Maybe we haven’t been through anything nearly as bad as their family is going through, but being pushed to our breaking point is something most of us can relate to. And “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is something we hear regularly.
Is it true?
In Genesis 3, right at the beginning of the Bible, we’re introduced to one of Satan’s favorite tricks: Twisting God’s words around just enough that they sound right, but take on a vastly different meaning:
Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Notice that’s almost exactly what God did say:
“You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”
Almost isn’t close enough. Satan didn’t spin God’s words very much, but it was enough to throw Eve off completely — and then Satan knew he had her.
In the same way, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” sounds right. It sounds Biblical. And we hear it so often, we believe God himself said it. But it’s a bastardization of God’s word that Satan uses to great success over and over and over.
Here’s what God did say:
No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.
God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able. Tempted. This is the verse Satan wants us thinking of when he tells us that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Just like Eve in the Garden, he tweaks it just enough that it still sounds right but conveys a vastly different meaning that he can then use to his advantage.
What does God really say about the level of suffering he’ll allow us to endure? Read the book of Job and see how suffering completely broke him. Read his words of complete and utter anguish.
Read Exodus and Numbers and write down how many things God put the Israelites through. Over and over he broke them, leading them through trials that had them begging to go back to being slaves. They knew firsthand that even brutal slavery was better than what they were having to endure.
Why does God do this?? At the very least, it can feel mean. At the very worst, it can feel like the actions of an unjust, capricious, power-tripping deity whose feelings towards us are anything but love — a god who gets perverse joy from toying with us.
The Bible gives us at least three reasons.
It Makes Us Better
In James 1:2, God tells us this:
Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.
It has been my experience that “consider it” is very deliberate wording. There have been very few times when I was able to truly feel joy during suffering. Most of the time we have to just “gird up the loins of our mind” (1 Peter 1:13) and constantly remind ourselves that this is a cause for joy. We don’t feel it, but we can at least keep ourselves from despairing — usually.
Like elite athletes who willingly put themselves through brutal training because they know what the result will be, Hebrews 12 says:
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
God is making us better.
It Teaches Us to Trust God Alone
Our natural inclination is to trust in ourselves — particularly in a country that (rightfully) holds work ethic in such high regard. Satan has never found a good thing he couldn’t turn into a bad thing, though, so the old American self-reliance turns into a complete reliance on self rather than a reliance on God.
In Proverbs 3:4-5, God exhorts us:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;
in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.
Even with our best efforts, though, we often can’t break the hold on trusting in ourselves. God knows the only solution is to remove everything from our lives that draw our trust away from him — and that’s a brutal process. Dying to self often literally feels like dying. It’s exactly what he did to the Israelites in the desert.
In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul directly counters Satan’s lie that God won’t give us more than we can handle. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9a, he writes:
We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death…
Paul says clearly that God gave him more than he could handle. But why? He continues:
…so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again.
When God puts us in situations that only he can get us out of — and then he does it — we learn that he will deliver us faithfully and we begin to believe it.
It Draws Others to God
Later in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reveals another reason that he allows his children to suffer. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-11, he writes:
Now we have this treasure [of the Gospel] in clay jars [frail, inglorious, human bodies], so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh.
God removes us so that people can see him. It is his power and his glory that draw people to him. It’s why John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Lord, help us to endure suffering with the hope that you offer, knowing that these trials can produce, if we will let them, a harvest of righteousness. Help us to be able to pray the words of Paul…
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Lord, help us. Because this feels like anything but a “momentary light affliction.”