Have you been there? The feeling of life crushing down on you, and you just want to crawl into a ball. Most of us have experienced that awful feeling, probably numerous times in our lives. We feel we can’t handle life, and wonder if we are failures. In the middle of the pain, we raise all sorts of questions about God and how he feels, and where he is, and if he cares.
In part 1 of this series fact-checking ideas Christians believe about dealing with difficulty, I introduced the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and concluded that the first part of that statement is false.
But what about the second part of the statement: “More than you can handle”? What is that referring to? What is more than you can handle? That’s the image I mentioned in part 1 when God supposedly gives a person “boxes of pain” like a health crisis or a job loss, but as God keeps giving them more boxes (again, supposedly), the load eventually becomes too much, crashing down on a person, ruining them. In life this is very real. It could be a mental breakdown, it could mean declaring bankruptcy, it could be a divorce, or even death.
I have two concerns with this.
First, the statement “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” insinuates that God would never allow a person to go through such an awful situation that they would break down or die. Look at real life, though, and you see that plenty of Christians regularly go through awful situations where they break down and die. Think of Christians who are persecuted for their faith. Throughout history many thousands upon thousands have died for their faith. But we don’t need to go to the extreme of death. People of all kinds regularly go through extremely difficult situations, and they feel overwhelmed by the pain. Clearly God allows people to go through more than they can handle. So this second phrase of the statement is also wrong.
The second problem I have with “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is that this statement can create the expectation that a Christian should be able to handle everything flawlessly, even the horrible situations in life. It gives the impression that if we have a breakdown of some kind, whether a divorce or an emotional breakdown or a bankruptcy, then we are failures as Christ-followers. Because God apparently wouldn’t give us more than we can handle, our breakdown is our fault, our lack of faith. Many people have borne that guilt, finding it to be a crushing pain on top of the difficulty they’re already facing.
Is God like that? Does he expect us to be so filled with faith that we should never struggle no matter how bad life gets? Not at all. Therefore my conclusion is that this statement is not true, not biblical, and we should stop using it.
What is true is that God is with us in the midst of our pain. He will never leave us. We can go to him for strength and for wisdom and for comfort. He is always available.
In 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, the Apostle Paul says that God comforts us in the midst of our pain! That is the truth we need to cling to. If you have felt the weight of the world crashing down on you, know that God is ready with open arms to forgive if you need to be forgiven, to comfort if you need to be comforted, and to guide you if you need wisdom. He doesn’t give you more than you can handle, but life sometimes does, and know that God is for you and with you.
Check back in to part 3 when we fact-check the next phrase about dealing with difficulty: “God helps those who help themselves.”