What if God DOES give us more than we can handle?

What do you say when your friend gets arrested for accidentally forgetting the item at the bottom of his cart before he walks out the door? What words can you possibly find for the friend awash in grief because her grown up sister suddenly drowned last week in a creek?  How do you answer the why in their tired eyes when a couple sits across from you at your kitchen table, describing how a house fire destroyed their home that morning?

And in case you’re wondering–yes, all of those things happened last month to people I love. 

September was rough. 

When the lives of people around us are messy, when the pain they feel is bigger or different from any we’ve ever walked through, we get scared. It’s uncomfortable, right? So we want to fix it, to say a magic word that will suddenly make it all better. Maybe we just want to be the hero.

Whatever the reason, if you feel the urge to tell them, “God won’t give you more than you can handle”…just don’t. 

The first reason is that it’s simply not true. God DOES give us more than we can handle.

We know this from personal experience. Anyone who has ever had an EBD (emotional breakdown) knows that there are days we just. Can’t. Deal. Life is chock-full of stress, and it only increases as we grow into our adult lives and accumulate more responsibilities.

But stress or tragedy in the lives of people who follow God is nothing new. What about Joseph, trafficked into slavery by his own brothers? What about Job, who lost his wealth and his kids all in one horrible day? What about Moses, terribly insecure and shaking in his bare feet when God told him to lead millions of people out of a country where they’d been slaves for 400 years? All of them were handed far more than they could handle.

Telling someone that they’ll never be given more than they can handle feeds several lies:

1. It sets up an unrealistic expectation that life will be relatively easy for those with faith.

This sounds great, and is a key part of the Prosperity Theology preached by many. However, it is the complete opposite of what Jesus actually told his disciples to expect. Jesus said that “in this life you will have trouble” (John 16:33). He also declares that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

 Faith in God does not guarantee an easy life. In fact, the sheer number of verses calling believers to self-sacrifice, suffering, and endurance indicate the opposite.

2. If you do find yourself falling apart, it must be because you don’t believe strongly enough that you have what it takes. 

This is such a terrible lie, straight from Hell. Not only does it further isolate the person, it also piles a heap of guilt on an already painful situation.

There is definitely a Biblical call to stand firm on the promises of God. But did Jesus promise an easy life? Did he promise that you would never have a meltdown or feel depressed? We must be careful that the promises we are claiming are actually from the Lord. (See point number 1.)

One of the reasons that folk theology takes root and gains popular acceptance is because it sounds so much like the truth. Telling someone that God won’t give them more than they can handle is almost  a true statement.

However, the truth is that God will never give you more than His grace is sufficient for.

The Apostle Paul had a struggle that seemed to crush him. Three times he pleaded with God to take it away, but each time God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Not only did God promise to give grace that is enough for all I need, he even seems to say that the best circumstance through which to display His power is our weakness. What kind of crazy, backward display of power is this? But that is the mystery of the majesty of our God.

The truth is that God never intended you to handle it alone. 

Our loving Father wants us to rely on Him, and not on ourselves. Our natural normal state is not independence, as if God wanted us to eventually remove the training wheels of His love and grace. Our natural, normal state is deep, constant dependence on Him for every need, every moment.

Our natural state is also community. Even about Adam, a sinless man in a perfect, pre-curse world, God said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18)

I firmly believe that one of God’s primary and most tangible expressions of grace to believers is other believers. When we, as the Body of Christ, are all built up into the unity of the Spirit, we share one member’s pain as our own. We bear one another’s burdens.

The truth is that God loves us so much that he is even willing to allow painful circumstances in our lives to bring about this intimacy with Himself and within his Body. 

This is a delicate topic. I was so nervous to bring it up that I almost skipped it entirely.

I realize that it would be completely arrogant for me to look at anyone’s pain and assume that I know the reason God allowed it. When God allows cancer, or sexual abuse, or a house fire, or a machete massacre in a Nigerian village, I have no words.

And friend, I don’t know the “why” behind your story of loss.

But I know that the ultimate good for humans–the absolute best thing that can ever happen to us–is to know God. To see Him for who He is, to experience His greatness and love, to become intimate friends with the Creator who call us His own–this is the best, most joyful thing.

Your loving Father might allow pain and loss in order to bring you into the deep intimacy with Himself and his Church that is your ultimate good.

Paul described this experience in his own life like this:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God,who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)

I firmly believe that there is no evil or pain that God cannot redeem for our good and His glory.

After all, the brutal murder of an innocent man named Jesus was the way God chose to bring salvation to the world. 

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