Perhaps the single most disgusting cliché in Christianity today is “God never gives you more than you can handle.” I have heard it on the lips of well-meaning pastors and weeping widows. I am sure that, somewhere along the way, I even used it at time or two (God forgive me). The origin of this pernicious lie is undoubtedly the misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which reads, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond that which you are able, but he will make with the temptation a way of escape in order for you to be able to endure.”
Let’s briefly consider what Paul does and does not say in this verse. Paul does say that the Corinthians are being tempted in a way similar to what Israel faced in the wilderness (i.e., fornication, idolatry, murmuring, see 1 Cor 10:1-12). Paul does say that God will not allow the Corinthians to be tempted with sin beyond what they are able to bear. Paul does say that God provides a way to escape temptation. On the other hand, Paul does not say that God does not give judgment, suffering, or pain beyond what a person can bear. Paul does not say that God is good all the time (i.e., good in the sense of always making life pleasant for us down here). To the contrary, both Paul and the entire biblical canon bear witness to the fact that God always gives us more than we can handle.
There are a number of witnesses who could be summoned to bear witness to this biblical reality. I will only call three—the law, the prophets, and the writings. The pages of the OT bear witness to the fact that God always gives people, even his chosen people, more than they can handle. God placed Joseph in a situation (a pit and prison to be exact) that he could not handle (Gen 37-50). He put Israel in Egyptian slavery, and they could not deliver themselves from it (hence they cry out for help, Exod 2:23-25). God gave Moses leadership over Israel, but he could not even feed and water the people (even Jesus said so—John 6:32). Israel was certainly never able to handle God’s judgment for their sin. Just ask the generation of Israelites whose corpses wasted away in the wilderness (Num), Achan buried under a pile of stones (Joshua 7:16-26), Eli with broken neck and all (1 Sam 4:18), any number of the kings in Israel and Judah (1-2 Kings), those taken into Babylonian captivity, etc. Which of the prophets ever say Israel can handle the God-given onslaught of the Assyrians and Babylonians? Only the false ones. When do the writings of the OT ever glibly say, “God never gives you more than you can handle?” Job says just the opposite:
Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Would that I had died and no eye had seen me! I should have been as though I had not been, carried from womb to tomb. Would He not let my few days alone? Withdraw from me that I may have a little cheer (Job 10:18-20).
Sounds like a guy who knows God never gives him more than he can handle, right? If you object, “Satan was behind Job’s pain,” then you have not read Job 1-2 closely enough. If you object, God allowed Satan to harm Job, then you have not read Job 1-2 closely enough. Besides, would it be any consolation to Job that God “allowed” his wealth, children, and health to be tossed aside so easily? Job is no philosopher debating the permissive will of God. He’s a puss-infested and childless shell of a man who cannot handle anything. I would need another 50 blogs to cite all the evidence from the Psalms. One citation will have to suffice:
O Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do You hide your face from me? I was afflicted and about to die from youth on; I suffer your terrors; I am overcome.
Overcome? Really? Come on man—chin up, chest out—“God never gives you more than you can handle.” What a disgusting interpretation!
The stark reality is that God always give us more than we can handle. He gives us more judgment, responsibility, and suffering than we could ever possibly handle in a thousand life times. Yet, hidden in all the judgment and all the suffering is one who was able to handle everything God put on him. Beneath Achan’s rubble and Job’s brokenness is a crucified and risen Jesus. The hope I cling to, as God consistently overwhelms me, is my personal confession that “You, O God, always give me more than I can handle; therefore, I am thankful you have given me your Son.”
A native of Lubbock, TX, Channing Crisler holds a BS in History from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, TX. He received his Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX, and his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.