“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).
Before you read the rest of this devotion, read the verses above one more time.
In my short time as a pastor, and especially in my longer time as a Christian, I have heard many people tell me what gets them through a hard time: “I know that God won’t give me more than I can handle.” It’s one of those phrases that has made its way into mainstream knowledge so well that many repeat it as if it is Gospel truth. But if you search the Scriptures as hard as you can, no matter which translation you might be using (even if you use The Message!), you will not find these words anywhere. In fact, you will find much of the opposite, like the words of 2 Corinthians above. Life can and will get to the point where even the most faithful will be forced to cry out, “I can’t handle this.”
This isn’t to say that the phrase should instead be, “God will give me more than I can handle.” This too would be incorrect. God is not the giver of trouble. The gospel writer Luke records, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” (11:11). Our Father in heaven gives to us gifts of life and love and blessings, not troubles. It would be wrong to conclude, when life is so hard it overwhelms us, that God is the author of for such misery, for it is His good gifts in these times that provide hope and peace in the midst of sorrow.
So what should we say, then? Perhaps our goal should not be to find a better mantra but rather to gain a better understanding of the role of such difficulties in our lives of faith. In fact, I believe we can even see suffering and misery as a fulfillment of what Paul writes in Romans: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” (8:28). To be fair, we should never call suffering good, especially when it overwhelms us. But it is good to see that suffering can indeed overwhelm us. For one, it shows us that we are in good company with many of those who have followed God throughout history. People like Paul and Timothy, Moses, and even Elijah the prophet are recorded in Scripture to have suffered so greatly that they felt near to the point of death. They knew the reality that we all know: that life can and will at times be more than we can handle. And we know why this is. Ever since the fall in the garden, humanity has had trouble. Sickness, tragedy, violence, and death are all the result of sin. Jesus even makes it clear that trouble will be part of living in the world, even pointing to its overwhelming effects by describing it as living like helpless lambs among ravenous wolves.
Recognizing and acknowledging this reality is important, for it leads us to look outside of ourselves and to a greater, far better remedy. God wants us to recognize that we are in over our heads and out of our depth in this sinful world. And why? So that we will rely not on ourselves but on Him. The phrase “God won’t give me more than I can handle” keeps the focus on us, trying to convince us that we can do this, that we have the ability to overcome. But the truth is we don’t. We can’t overcome the troubles of this world. That is why God sends Jesus to us. He tells us in John, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (16:33, NIV). We do not rely on our strength to face the troubles of this earthly life; rather, we rest firmly in the One who has borne the full weight of our sin on the cross and paid the price for it with His very blood. We find peace in the midst of earthly suffering because we look to the One Who was vindicated by the resurrection from the dead. In this life we have joy, not because we are confident in our ability to endure, but because we have our Lord, Jesus Christ, Who has endured all things for us.
In this life, we will find that there is more than we can handle on our own. So, if you find yourself facing overwhelming odds, don’t comfort yourself by saying, “God won’t give me more than I can handle.” Rather, allow yourself to say, “I cannot handle this,” for then you will be ready to turn to the Lord and rely on His promises to carry you through and bring you peace.
Photo (c) Mari Yamagiwa/Lightstock