How many of you have heard a sweet, old lady’s voice in the midst of your troubles saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle?”
I have heard that phrase more times than I’d like to say….mostly coming from brothers and sisters in Christ. When I was younger and felt like this phrase would echo in every circumstance, I felt it to be like an encouraging boost to get me back on the path to overcoming my struggle. Surely a good God who loved me and worked out all things for my good wouldn’t give me more than I could bear….right?
As much as I think this may bust so many people’s bubbles, that statement is so wrong and now even makes me cringe when I hear people vehemently profess this untruth. So let’s dig in a little deeper and understand why this declaration of God’s character is false.
First let’s look at Job. This is a famous story in the Old Testament of a man who “was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” (Job 1:1). People who have heard this story over and over know of a man who had it all, but then all was taken away from him. Job lost all of his animals and farm workers, his children all died (on the same day), he lost his health when boils showed up all over his skin, and his wife asked him to curse God. We know of this man because he did lose it all, but didn’t curse God and because of his faithfulness, God restored all that Job had lost. And that’s where most of us stop at when reading this story. A good guy that bad things happened to and then God gave it all back to him.
Until recently this was all that Job’s story had ever been to me….until I read chapters 3 and 6. Job speaks in this passage about how he doesn’t have the strength on his own anymore and that in his humanity, he would rather die than deal with these struggles on his own. We see Job, this blameless man of integrity who feared God say “God has allowed more than I can bear in my own strength, and because of the intensity of my struggles, I would rather be delivered from them in death than endure them any longer.”
In the New Testament, you can look at Paul’s words in some of my favorite verses of Scripture that remind me so often that Jesus is all I need. In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 it says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ 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.”
Paul also tells the people of Corinth about his own journey in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10.
We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.
Paul, one of the greatest preachers of all times is admitting here that he was overwhelmed with trouble beyond his ability to endure. If God never gave us more than we could handle, why would Paul make this statement. A man of great faith acknowledged his inability to persist in his troubles apart from the dependence on the God who sustained Him through it all.
Even one of the most quoted verses of Scripture, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13), reiterates our strength in Christ to accomplish anything. Apart from him, our weaknesses overpower us. But because of Him, we can find hope in the One whose might carries us along when we can no longer handle it alone.
The premise of Scripture is not to tell us that God won’t give us more than we can handle, but rather that when we are pressed in from all sides and feel like we are desperately trying to tread the deep waters, those are the times that Christ can demonstrate HIS strength best in our weaknesses. He will give us more than we can handle in order to fully rely on Him.
So the next time you’re in the center of despair and a friend, or stranger, or a little old lady recites this phrase to you “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” remember that when it feels like the world’s corners may be closing in on you, you may have been dealt more than you can bear. But even then, in what seems like a desolate circumstance, God is using it to draw you to see His purpose, His power, and His plan.