“God will not give you more than you can handle.” This is one of those phrases that people will often share with someone going through a difficult time in their life, with the goal of encouraging them. And yea, it can definitely be an encouraging statement.
This phrase communicates to us that God knows where the boundary is between what we can handle and what we can’t handle in this life, and he won’t cross that line. It also communicates to us that because God knows what we can handle, and he doesn’t let us deal with something that is more than we can handle, then whatever it is that we are going through, we will be able to handle it. Since God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, we can rest and be encouraged in knowing we can handle whatever we are going through.
Yea, that can definitely be a very encouraging thought for sure. There’s only one problem…it’s not true.
Allow me explain, because my goal in this is not to take away the encouragement we need in difficult times. Rather, I want to give us the proper perspective and source of encouragement for those difficult times.
First, this phrase is not true because the verse it is associated with doesn’t say that God will not give us more than we can handle. The verse is 1 Corinthians 10:13, and it says…
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. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
This verse is speaking specifically about temptations, not any difficult life circumstance. Yes, temptations are difficult and can lead to many difficulties in our life, but the verses is speaking specifically of the temptations in life.
To really understand this verse better, you have to look at the context. In the first part of 1 Corinthians chapter 10, Paul is reminding his readers of the mistakes of their fathers before them. In verses 6-11 Paul lists several very specific sins that their fathers had committed. The purpose of Paul doing this is to challenge his readers to not fall into the same sins. In verse 11 he says “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction“…in other words, ‘see their example and learn from their mistakes so you don’t do the same thing’.
Then in verses 12-15 Paul says “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.“
Yes, resisting temptation can be hard…I’m not saying it’s easy. But if we as Followers of Christ spend time in his Word, we know what God says is wrong and should be avoided. We will be tempted in this life, but we also know that God won’t tempt us beyond our ability because he will provide a way of escape (it says that in verse 13). Being tempted is not the sin, giving into the temptation is the sin. But we have the strength of Christ living in us (Romans 16:25, 1 Peter 5:10, Galatians 2:20), and thus we have the strength needed to resist the temptation. So we know that God will not tempt us beyond our ability.
That’s what that verse/passage is talking about.
Second, this phrase is not true because if it is, then how do we properly deal with the stories of people like Job, Paul, and other great men of the faith in scripture who went through some crazy difficult times?
If God does not give us more than we can handle, then why did he allow Job to have EVERYTHING taken from him, leading him to a point in his life where he was filled with despair. Job was a very righteous man…the very first verse in the book of Job says he was a man who was blameless and upright. Yet God chose to allow Job to go through unspeakable tragedy. The depth of Job’s despair is evident when you look at how he talks in chapters 29 and 30…
“Oh, that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me, when his lamp shone upon my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in my prime, when the friendship of God was upon my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me…” (Job 29:2-5)
“And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest. With great force my garment is disfigured; it binds me about like the collar of my tunic. God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes.” (Job 30:16-19)
“But when I hoped for good, evil came, and when I waited for light, darkness came. My inward parts are in turmoil and never still; days of affliction come to meet me. I go about darkened, but not by the sun…” (Job 30:26-28)
If God does not give us more than we can handle, then why did he give Paul something that was so difficult to deal with that Paul begged to have it taken away, but God didn’t? Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 speaks about a “thorn in the flesh”…something he was tormented with that was so difficult that he pleaded with God three times to take it away. However God did not remove it from Paul’s life. Rather, God told Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.
God will give us more than we can handle in this life. He will allow us to go through things so difficult and hard to understand that it will plague our minds and hearts and bring us to places of weakness and despair. God gives us more than we can handle, so that we will find our strength in him and allow our weakness to show his power in our lives.
Consider Paul’s response to God… “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
That’s the proper perspective and encouragement in all of this that we must remember. Not that we can handle it on our own, but that God will give us the strength to make it through anything. We don’t have to try to make it on our own, we simply need to find our strength from God and allow his power to work in our lives.
Life is hard. That is more true than we often like to admit. Life and the difficulties that are a part of it can easily drag us to places of despair and hopelessness, especially when we try to handle everything on our own. I know, because I’ve lived the past year and a half on the edge of despair and hopelessness. And I must choose whether I will try to make it on my own strength, or if I will rely on God’s strength. It’s a choice I have to make each day. It’s a choice we all have to make each day.
I love how Job responds to God after being reminded how great and powerful God is. “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Job acknowledges that God is in control. At all times, but especially in times of difficulty, we need to acknowledge that truth as well. God is in control. If we look to him for strength and continue to trust him, God will give us the strength to handle anything.
May we find our strength in God, may we acknowledge that God is in control of everything, and may we learn to trust him more and more each day.