‘God will never give us more than we can handle.’ This is one of those statements that we’ve probably heard multiple times, from multiple lips. Some of us have said it ourselves. After all, it sounds right, doesn’t it? I mean, isn’t this what we’ve always been told? ‘God will never give us more than we can handle.’
But, as we tell our children, just because everyone else is doing something, doesn’t mean it’s right. And just because everyone (even among fellow Christians) is saying something, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right either! Rather, when we hear little clichés like this, it is important to ask whether or not they’re actually true.
So what about this one? Is this adage – that ‘God will never give us more than we can handle’ – is that a biblical saying?
Well, it’s true that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able” (1 Corinthians 10.13). Maybe that’s where our more over-arching cliché comes from. But that statement is specifically about temptation to sin, not a generic statement about all the trials of life. So then, what of the over-arching statement: ‘God will never give us more than we can handle’? Is that sentiment true, not only of temptation to sin, but of life in general?
Well, we need look no further than the apostle Paul for evidence that the answer is surely ‘no.’ Because Paul, speaking of the trials that he underwent in his missionary travels, says something that we will do well to take careful note of (2 Corinthians 1.8):
“We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength”
Read it again, carefully: “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength.” That doesn’t sound like the modern mantra does it? Neither does the Israelites’ being backed up against the Red Sea, with Pharaoh’s army breathing down their necks, and no place to hide; or Daniel being tossed into the lion’s den, or his friends into the fiery furnace. Do you see? Both Paul and his Israelite ancestors faced difficulties that were, frankly, more than they could handle! They faced situations in which they would have utterly collapsed had not God Himself intervened on their behalf! And so may we – perhaps more often than we realize. And if we do not make room for this fact in our theology, bad fruit will result.
For one thing, if we buy into the idea that ‘God will never give us more than we can handle,’ then what happens when actually do find ourselves “burdened excessively, beyond our strength”? We may be tempted to doubt the Lord; to question why He has not done for us what we were always told He would do – namely protect us from these unbearable situations.
On the other hand, believing the catchphrase may also result in robbing God of the praise He deserves for upholding us when we could not uphold ourselves. For, if we believe that ‘God will never give us more than we can handle,’ we presume that, while God knows our limits, and will not go beyond them … we actually can handle at least a little a bit of difficulty ourselves. And so when a situation arises, and our backs are against the Red Sea, and all hope seems lost, but then we make it out alive, and with our faith still intact … the presumption will be: ‘Boy, I’m more resilient than I thought. God will never give me more than I can handle. And I just handled that awful situation. So my faith must be quite robust after all.’
And that is completely the wrong response! We ought to walk out of the lion’s den, or the fiery furnace, saying: ‘Praise God! I was as good as dead. I had no way out. I could not handle what was being thrown my way … “but God” intervened! God was strong when I was weak. God did it!’ And I submit to you that that sort of praise will happen, not when we buy the line that ‘God will never give us more than we can handle,’ but when we realize that, for wise, loving purposes, He might well do precisely that – give us more than we can handle! “So that we [will] not trust in ourselves, but in God” as Paul concluded in 2 Corinthians 1.9; so that we will realize that the ability to ‘handle’ life’s problems is in God, and not in us!
So the catchphrase is not exactly true. Better that we learn to say: ‘God will never give us more than He can handle.’ Or better still, that we memorize the Bible’s own words about such things (e.g. 2 Corinthians 1.8-9), and learn to quote them in times of trial!