This post is part of a series looking at misquoted verses of the Bible. Click here to see others.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth we see a discussion on temptation. Paul encourages the early Christians this way:
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
What he’s teaching them is that they don’t have to give in to sin’s demands. Even in the moment when it seems that doing the right thing is impossible, it isn’t. But this verse of spiritual encouragement is quoted by many believers today in a much different form. You’ve likely heard this verse used in this way:
God won’t give you more than you can handle.
Like the original verse, this seems like an encouragement at first glance. Until the brokenness of life hits. When this statement is offered to a person in the midst of trying to stay afloat under overwhelming life circumstances, this morphs from encouragement to spiritual guilt. Debilitating spiritual guilt. The implied challenge is this: if God won’t give you more than you can handle, then you shouldn’t be having such a hard time.
I consider people I know reacting to being told that God hasn’t given them more than they can handle. I shudder to think of someone saying this to:
- my friend who suffers from extreme, often suicidal depression
- my multiple friends who have experienced miscarriages, often more than once
- people in our church community who have tragically lost all of their children in an accident
- my multiple friends who lost much of their self-esteem when their wives cheated on them and left them
- friends who wake up each morning in fear of the unknown after financially losing everything
To anyone who has followed God in community, who has seen firsthand how broken this world can be, and who has suffered alongside of others, you realize that this is actually opposite to how God works. I’ve written about my own recent journey here, and what I’ve learned in the process. The truth is that God often allows you to experience more than you can handle. While this might sound like the product of an awful God, the reality is that He knows that is the only way we turn to Him in the midst of the fallen world we’ve created. When we can handle everything we are experiencing we don’t need God. But it is precisely in the moments that are more than we can handle where we rely on God’s strength instead of our own.
We must be clear on one point. Much of what we attribute to God “giving” us is simply things that God allows to happen to us. Yes, He could have stopped it. But just because He didn’t intervene for what we’d like does not mean that He caused it. Often our pain is the result of bad decisions we’ve made, someone else made to us, or the result of a world full of bad decisions. Like Job’s friends in the story we find in the Old Testament, we often blame the person struggling. Or like Job himself, we falsely blame God. Both of these actions lead us to false conclusions about God.
In the second letter we have from Paul to the church in Corinth, we see Paul elaborate on dealing with pain from his own experience.
“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 127b-10
No matter how overwhelming your situation currently is, God is with you. He loves you. And He desires to be your strength in this time. There’s nothing shameful about feeling overwhelmed.
And to anyone who isn’t feeling the weight of this right now but knows someone who is, please don’t tell them the lie that they should be able to handle what they are going through. If God doesn’t expect them to handle it on their own, neither should we.