Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Does God Ever Give Us More than We Can Handle?”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1.8-9)

In the age of TikTok theology, it shouldn’t be surprising to see excessive controversy over minor quibbles, and as our society moves ever farther down the road of policing each other’s words, it was, perhaps, inevitable that arguments would arise over whether certain platitudes are theologically correct.  One of these arguments concerns the oft-repeated words of encouragement, “God will never give you more in life than you can handle.”  The passage above seems to disagree with that sentiment!  On the contrary, Paul says the reason God gives us trials is to teach us to  “rely not on ourselves but on God.”  On top of that, while the platitude is so often repeated, usually word-for-word and with a sense of authority, no such verse appears anywhere in the Bible!  Imagine trying to encourage a fellow Christian using words that came, not from God, but from man!  Perhaps the cliche is wrong, and should be replaced: God will give you more than you can handle!

Of course, that sentence isn’t in the Bible, either.  It’s a conclusion drawn from the passage quoted above.  But if we can defend our replacement on those grounds, then we should really consider the defense given for the more common version of the proverb.

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)

Well, that seems to support the notion that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle—at least in the context of temptation.  But that’s a more specialized application, dealing with sin, not just the everyday trials of life, right?  Not exactly.  Paul pointed out that God gives us unbearable trials to teach us to rely on him, as we established at the start.  But he also says we won’t be tempted more than we can handle; and, as James tells us,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1.13-14)

So, unbearable trials come from God, and temptations come from Satan—or from our own lusts.  Yet, it’s clear that God must be involved in that procedure, in order to restrain Satan.  We can even see an example of this process in action, through Job.

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1.8-12)

This passage illustrates an uncomfortable fact for those arguing against our old platitude: trial and temptation are, to an extent, in the eye of the beholder.  In the New Testament, there’s only one Greek word (πειρασμός-peirasmos—and its derivatives) that is translated trial or temptation, depending on the context.  From Satan’s perspective, what he was about to do to Job was certainly a series of temptations—he was eagerly hoping Job would fail.  From God’s perspective, it was a series of trials, which God wanted Job to successfully pass—which is why he planted the notion in Satan’s mind in the first place. 

Ultimately, all trials can also be viewed as temptations—and God has guaranteed that any temptation that overtakes us is within our ability to withstand.  We can handle them!  But what does it mean, to handle trials and temptations?  It doesn’t mean we have the ability to get out of them, or to change the course of the world’s events, molding them to suit our own desires.  If that’s what you mean by “handle,” then God will absolutely give you more than you can handle!  But what really matters is to experience a life full of trials, while keeping your relationship with God intact.  God assures us that this—not the bare minimum, but the only thing that truly matters in the end—is within our ability.

But how?  Let’s go back to Job—how did he successfully “handle” his unbearable trials?  By remaining faithful to God, and relying completely on him!  We’re back where we started.  Join your own efforts with Christ’s strength—as Paul did, while suffering both trial and temptation in a Roman prison: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Php 4.13).  Is Paul arrogantly dismissing the weight of his trial?  Far from it.  Is he refusing to put in effort of his own, on the grounds that it’s up to Jesus?  On the contrary, he says, I can do it. It’s a huge mistake to think you have within yourself the strength to bear whatever comes your way in this life; one day, you’ll discover you don’t.  But it’s also a mistake to surrender to your trials—that’s not endurance, or character or hope—the fruits suffering should produce in us (Ro 5.3-5).  Instead of getting caught up in arguments such as this one, focus on being prepared for trials, and doing all things through Christ, who strengthens you.

Jeremy Nettles