“God will never give you more than you can handle.”
I’ve heard this quoted as Scripture one too many times. It’s just not in there.
It’s a nice sentiment. It looks good on a facebook post.
You won’t find it. It’s not there.
Not only is this is not a Bible verse. It’s also not a benign statement. In the right context, it can constitute spiritual abuse.
Imagine the day I arrived at the ICU, just in time to watch a mother sign the DNR for her adult child. Or how about the next day, when I sat with the parents as they informed their little boy that his sister would not be coming home.
What do you think? Should I have looked them and said, “God will never give you more than you can handle”?
It seem glib at best, woefully ignorant at worst. Assuring a grieving parent that, in essence, “you should be able to handle this” isn’t just not helpful. It’s malicious.
The same holds true for countless experiences that people you know face every day.
So where did this saying come from?
And how has it become so widely spread and accepted as true?
I think I know where the confusion comes from.
Here’s what the Bible actually does say:
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) says, “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.”
Now I bet you’re confused.
You’re probably thinking, “How is that different than, ‘God will never give you more than you can handle’?”
It’s a LOT different. Let’s break it down.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.”
You suffer through the same stuff everyone does. When you do, God is not picking on you. All 7+ billion people in this world go through trials and temptation. Yours are unique to you. But they are not unique.
This perspective matters.
One of the devil’s oldest tricks is to make you think that you are suffering pain that is exclusive to you. If he can win that battle in your mind, he can turn you away from going to God and actually getting the help you need. All it takes is a little seed of resentment to spout into full-blown rebellion of the heart.
“And God is faithful;”
Stop. Let this sink in.
When you run into trying times, do you run to God or away from Him? All too often, when we are faced with an obstacle, we assume God is somehow to blame. He’s not. He’s faithful. Just because something goes wrong doesn’t mean God has left you.
The sooner we take the focus off of our temptation and place it on God’s faithfulness, the better.
And this is the pivot point:
“…he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”
This is where the wrong turn happens. People read this part alone and think, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Wrong.
It does say that God will not let you be tempted “beyond what you can bear.” So there is an outer limit to temptation. God will only let so much happen. But how can we know that’s true?
Read this last bit and I’ll explain.
“But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
If you and I are honest, we have to admit that there has never been one single moment where we had to give in to temptation.
(I’ll give your mind a moment to scroll through the memory banks, compiling an argument against me…)
Ok, I’ll go first.
Look, I have made innumerable excuses for my sins. I still do. I love to recall how different factors played in to how I acted, thought or treated someone else. Something about painting myself as helpless seems to make me feel less bad about doing what I know I shouldn’t. I wish it weren’t true. But it is.
But if I’m honest, I can tell you that there has never been a time I had to give into temptation. I just chose the easy way out.
And that’s the rub, isn’t it? There is always a way out. But it often comes at a price.
- You can choose to let that snarky comment slide. But then you’d lose the opportunity to air out that great comeback.
- You can choose to claim all your income on your tax return, even the cash. But then it would, literally, cost you.
Whatever the temptation, there is always a way out. And God has given to us the power to make that choice. (Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:57) But we often just don’t want to pay that price.
God will never railroad you into disobedience. That’s what this is saying. You are never under compulsion to sin. Never. No matter how you try to explain it away in your head, you never have to sin. There is always a way out.
God will definitely give you more than you can handle.
But He will never leave you without the option to obey Him. Here’s the sticky part: You may not like the options in front of you.
Scripture is full of examples of people who God gave more than they could handle.
Job - I don’t know if you know this, but as far as we can tell, Job is the oldest book in the Bible. Yeah, isn’t that great? The portion of Scripture that has been in written form longest is a story about a guy who God allowed to lose everything! So much for the Bible being a feel-good story.
At the low point of his life, after losing his children, wealth and health, Job’s wife looked at him, pitiless, and said, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Ouch.
I’d say God gave Job more than he could handle. Yet he did not sin by cursing God. Yes, he bottomed out. And it wasn’t pretty. But in the end, God proved Himself faithful.
Consider Abraham. God told him to move to a land that God had not yet showed him. God said, “Go” and Abraham went. I bet he wondered where he was headed. I sure am glad he responded to God.
Later, God told Abraham to go sacrifice his son. Like, with a knife. And he obeyed. I could not imagine…
In the end, God was faithful to provide a sacrifice to replace Isaac. (Hint hint, foreshadowing here.)
Noah built a boat before the rain clouds gathered. (Genesis 6) I bet he was tempted to throw in the towel. I bet he was glad he didn’t.
Moses was told to march into Egypt after 40 years of being on the lam for murder. (Exodus 3) He gave God a list of reasons he couldn’t do it. But God didn’t buy it. Eventually, Israel was freed.
Once the Israelites were freed, however, they whined. They griped so much that God wanted to kill them all and start over with Moses. (Exodus 32:9-10) Oh, and they rebelled too. (Exodus 32) All of them. It got ugly. But God was faithful.
David’s son turned on him and his kingdom fell. He acted like he was crazy to get out of a tight spot. (1 Samuel 21:10-15)
Jesus asked His Father if there was any other way to save the world. (Matthew 26:36-46) There was not. So Jesus was nailed to a cross, and the sins of the entire world were placed on Him. I am glad he didn’t give into temptation early in his ministry. (Matthew 4:1-11) I am glad He never gave into temptation. (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15)
How about Stephen? He was tried before the Sanhedrin. All he had to do is say, “Ok, I won’t preach anymore” and he could have walked away. It doesn’t even seem like the temptation to renounce Christ even registered. Instead, He preached, glorifying God, and paid with his life. (Acts 7)
Each of these men were tempted, yet chose to obey God above all else.
The price tag for their obedience was steep. But the price tag for their disobedience would have been much greater. In the end, their acts of faith are still telling the story of a God’s faithfulness thousands of years later.
God gave each of these men more than they could handle.
I’m just glad it wasn’t more than He could handle.
What about you?
Have you ever had more than you could handle?
- Maybe your marriage imploded.
- Maybe you lost a child.
- Maybe you’re addicted.
- Maybe life just hasn’t turned out the way you hoped it would.
I am so sorry that you have had to deal with that. I know that nothing I can say will take away that pain.
If that’s you, I know you’re tempted. You’re tempted to turn your back on God, to blame Him, and walk away.
Or maybe you already have. I’ve been there.
The best news ever is that, even if you have walked away, God is still there when you turn around.