“God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

Psalm 46 1 Cor.10:1-7;11-13

In the Series “Half Truths”

By Rev. Becky Schofield Motter

Imagine for a moment a weight lifting competition where the judges add on the weight a little at a time to see how much the contestant can lift. And they decide ahead of time if they think the contestant can handle just a little bit more weight. This is a visual image of the half truth we are looking at today as part of our series based on the book with that title by Adam Hamilton.

The half truth I’m sure many of us have heard often in our lives is, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Part of what this saying portrays is that God is weighing us down to just before the breaking point, but won’t let us teeter over the edge.

Like the other sayings in this series, this half truth is partially connected to scripture, but like others we have examined, it gives a distorted picture of the way God works in our lives. I am sure when those words are said to another it is meant to offer comfort or care when one is not sure what to say, but often times it can cause more pain than relief. Let’s take some time to think through this saying …

If you were to look for a scriptural basis for this saying many claim 1 Cor 10:13 is where to find it. We are going to take a few moments to examine this verse and its context in the book of 1 Corinthians. The actual verse says this, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

If you look at this passage in different translations you may see a difference in the use of the word tempted and tested, which are similar, but not always the same. So it is important for us to look at context: who wrote it, who they were writing to, what was going on at that time it was written and what else is said in the passage around it.

Paul is writing to a congregation he founded on one of his missionary journeys. He knows that Corinth is a difficult place to be a Christian. Most everyone there would have been a convert from the pagan religion of that region. Corinth is a port city, which means there are a lot of people coming and going from many places and it was said that Corinth had a pagan shrine on every corner. So this meant that the Christians there would have had a hard time avoiding the traditions and practices they had before their conversion. And these traditions would not be in keeping with the new lifestyle of Christianity. In the context of this setting, Paul is encouraging them to not be tempted or tested by the sexual immorality and the idolatry of their culture. He does not mention anything in this chapter or the chapter before or after about being tested or tempted by God with trials or hardships.

Paul also puts this conversation in the context of what happened to the nation of Israel after the Exodus when they were wandering in the desert and were tempted and tested to do what they knew they should not do. He gave the comparison to their struggle with idolatry and other temptations. Israel was in the midst of the Exodus when God was providing a way out of trial and temptation. Part of the framework Paul is giving the Corinthians and us reveals that God provides a way out for us, an Exodus, if you will, when we face the challenges described here. He says in the first part of the verse that we will all face testing or temptation with idols and immorality, that is part of the human condition, but he goes on to say that God is faithful in helping us avoid the temptation.

Two weeks ago, when we started this series we looked at the phrase “Everything Happens for a Reason.” In that sermon we said that part of the challenge with using this saying is our belief that God does not cause bad things to happen in our lives. Bad things happen to us sometimes because we and others choose not to be within God’s will and the sins bring about negative consequences. And that applies to the phrase we are looking at today as well. If we believe the half truth that God does not give us, then we are implying that God gives us the bad. But we have a theological belief that when God created and God said it was good. And in Christ we saw that God repeatedly gave people that which was good. If we believe that God does not give us more, than we tell other people that God gives out the bad along with the good. So this statement is contrary to our theological beliefs.

Think for a moment about some of the tragedies of life that push people to the point of being on the edge and feeling like life is too much: death of a spouse, parent or child, car accidents, child abuse, cancer, suicide, spousal abuse, medical epidemics, terrorism, natural disasters, etc. These are the tough things of life, but not things that God gives us to see how much we can handle.

There are many people who have times in their lives when they care for themselves and those they love by going to see a counselor, because the stuff of life feels like it is too much. Most people go for a short period of time to be able to deal with the circumstances of life, like the way we go to the doctor to deal with a temporary medical condition that our body cannot handle on its own. God has gifted counselors with the ability to help us when life feels like it is too much, when our burden is too heavy, or when there is more than we can handle. Let me just add, there is no shame in going to a counselor and it does not mean that there is anything wrong with you, it means that you need help for a period in your life when there is just too much going on for one person to handle.

The last part of verse 13 tells us that God will supply a way out. What a comfort to know that, no matter what temptations and trials come our way in this life, God is always able to show us a way through or out. The challenge we might have is that we are so focused on the temptations that we don’t always see the way out. It might be like going to the grocery store when we are hungry, the temptation to eat everything in sight is right there and we end of buying more than is on our shopping list; going to Fort Findlay when we have sworn off donuts, an alcoholic hanging out at the bar, you know you need to stop gossiping but you keep finding yourself with the group that loves to share the latest news, or you want to develop an encouraging spirit but your friends tend to be full of a critical spirit. We sometimes put ourselves in a place where the temptation is right in our face and that prevents us from being able to see the way that God has laid out for us to avoid the temptation.

So it is not God who is adding weight to the barbells of our lives and giving us more than we can handle – we do it to ourselves because we are not focused on the way out that God is providing for us. James 1:13 tells us that “God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” That is reassuring to us as we try to understand God and the ways of God as we travel through the challenges of life. It is important for us to take responsibility for the ways that we are tempted, not cast the blame off on God being the one who tempted us or the devil for that matter. When we are tempted, it is our responsibility to claim it and seek God’s help in going a different direction.

As we consider this saying, we also need to unpack a line in the Lord’s Prayer as well. Lead us not into temptation. This sort of sounds like God is leading us to be tempted, but let’s step back and evaluate this in light of the James text we just read, and focus on that prayer in another way. Lord, please lead us, not in the way we would go which leads to temptation, but rather in the direction of your path. And deliver us from the evil one. Again, God provides an alternative, but are we willing to pay attention to the way we should go?

A slight change in this half truth can make a huge difference in our understanding of God and ability to get through difficult circumstances. God will help you handle all the circumstances you face. This acknowledges that life is sometimes difficult and God is faithful in providing for us when things feel like they are too much. This phrase does not in any way imply that God was a part of the challenge, but rather is there to lift us up in spite of the challenge. One part of many peoples favorite Psalm says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.” We hear in this writing from the Psalmist that the writer knows he will walk through difficult times, but God will be a comfort in all things, we will never be alone.

I remember journeying with a couple and family who lost their firstborn child when she accidentally ran out in front of a car and was killed. That is more than they could handle and they were, understandably, in the midst of overwhelming grief for years. But they also had a strong faith in God to know that God was with them in their grief, providing comfort and even hope. And we who were journeying with them did our best to remind them that God was offering them comfort on the days when nothing felt comfortable.

In Mark 2 there is a story of four friends who take their friend to Jesus to be healed. Jesus had gained amazing popularity and the house he was in was overflowing with people and they could not get their friend to him. But they were determined and would not be deterred from their mission. They thought outside of the box, carried their friend to the roof, dug through it and lowered him into the house to encounter Jesus and receive the healing they so desperately wanted for him. This is what we do as a church. We surround those who are in the midst of grief, pain, heartache, challenge, obstacles and we do not let anything deter us from carrying them to Jesus. We make them and their need a priority and allow God to pour healing and wholeness into their lives.

The church is an important supportive community when life feels overwhelming. It can be a place where others remind you of the way God has been, is and will continue to be at work in our lives no matter the circumstances we face. It is important for us to simply be present with people who are going through difficult times and not try to ease their suffering with platitudes that are only half true.

Paul also wrote to the Christians in Rome with these words of hope: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35; 37-39

These are words of hope to cling to on those days when life feels like too much, nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. Thanks be to God! There may be things that are more than we can handle, but nothing is too big for God to handle.

Admitting that we need help from God, a friend or a professional is not revealing weakness or an inadequacy; it is trusting that God and others are there to support us and help us to handle the challenges of life.

Please join me in this prayer:

Supportive and Comforting Lord, we are grateful for your constant presence in our lives and the many ways you see us through difficult circumstances. Help us to rely on you and reveal your goodness in the way we face the challenges of life. In the moments when we feel tested and tempted, help us to see the way out which you have provided. Assist us in giving you credit for the goodness in our lives and not to blame you for the unfortunate events that cause us pain. We appreciate, Lord, that you are our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. We put our hope and trust in you. Amen.

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