If you’ve ever been going through a really difficulty time, you may have heard one of the following statements:
- God won’t give you more than you can handle.
- God helps those who help themselves.
- During times of suffering, you’ll be closer to God.
- This, too, shall pass.
We hear them regularly, don’t we? We interact with people going through hard times, and often we struggle to make sense of it. Where is God in the midst of my pain? Will I make it through? What do we say to people who are struggling? We want to be there for them, we want to encourage them, but we are concerned that we are going to say the wrong thing. It’s easy to fall back on sayings that we’ve heard before, maybe that were said to us during our pain, and we hope that we will sound wise and helpful. In those confusing moments, what often comes out of our mouths? One of these statements!
But are they true? Or are they false? Let’s fact check them. This post starts the third week in a sermon series I’m preaching at Faith Church on false ideas Christians believe. We’ve covered sin and the Bible, and now we’re fact-checking statements about dealing with difficulty.
First up is “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Are there any Bible verses that might prove or disprove this? How about 1 Corinthians 10:13?
On the surface, this seems to be a verse that proves the statement definitively. But a closer look reveals that this verse is not about difficult times, but about temptation.
But, Paul says here, “There is no temptation so powerful that it has the ability to overpower us to the point where we are incapable of resisting it. God is faithful. He will provide a way for us to stand up under it.”
And yet some of us have faced incredibly difficult temptations that have overwhelmed us. Is the verse wrong? No, the verse is right. God is faithful. When we succumb to temptation, James 1, tells us it is because we choose to indulge the temptation: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
So maybe the phrase is wrong? Let’s examine it. It starts with “God won’t give.” Taken by itself, it describes God as doing the giving. Is that what God does? Go around giving people trouble? Hardship? Pain?
I know it says, “He won’t give you more than you can handle,” but that presumes that God does give in the first place, and the context of the phrase is difficulty, so does God give us difficulty?
The image we get when we use this phrase is of a person walking carefree down the sidewalk, and enjoying a nice sunny spring day, and all of a sudden God pops up and says, “Oh hey, I am giving you this box to carry.” Could be a box of bad health, or a box of job loss, or a box of broken dishwasher. You name your pain. The person holds the box, and it is heavy. They don’t want to be carrying it. But God gave it to them. And then God shows up again and gives them another box. More pain. More difficulty. And now they are struggling. With one box, it was bad, but manageable. Now with two boxes, whew…it is really taking its toll. And then God shows up again. A third box. The hits just keep on coming. Now the pain in tripled and overwhelming. They won’t make it much further. God shows up again and gives them a fourth box. They fall down unable to handle it, the boxes of pain crashing over them, doing them in
Is God a giver of pain like that? No! We read Jesus saying that God is a giver of good gifts in Matthew 7:9-11, and James says the same thing in James 1:13-17.
So where does all the trouble and difficulty come from? Many places. Our own bad choices can result in pain, other people making bad choices affect us, and the broken and fallen world we live in. There is also a biblical concept that God punishes, or disciplines or corrects those he loves. Is that how God gives out difficulty to us? That he is punishing us? Is all our pain actually punishment?
The phrase came up in our Deuteronomy study in chapter 8. It is in more than one of the Psalms, and Proverbs 3:12 and which is quoted in Hebrews 12:6. It’s also mentioned in Revelation.
These passages describe God’s correction as very different from the many difficulties we face in life. God is not looking around just randomly punishing people, saying “I love them so much.” Instead, punishment occurs after a disobedience, and for the most part, that punishment is God lovingly allowing us to face the consequences of our bad choice. But know this, in our pain, he is right there with us.
So as we fact-check the first part of that statement, I say it is totally false. We need to see God as the giver of good gifts, as the parent who loves us, and thus allows us to go through the consequences of our bad choices, but who never leaves us. Therefore God is not deciding who can handle difficulty and then doling out bad circumstances based on that. Check back in for part 2 where we fact-check the second half of the phrase: “
God won’t give you more than you can handle.”