An incredibly common phrase I’ve heard Christians throw around a lot is the one, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I think the thought behind saying it stems from a desire to be encouraging and give hope to the person experiencing the hardship.
However, there are two major problems with this phrase.
It’s not biblical, nor is it actually helpful.
What the Bible actually says
The use of this phrase probably comes from verse 13 in 1st Corinthians chapter 10: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.”
Without a closer look, it might be easy to focus on the beginning of this passage and interpret its meaning as God will never give us more than we can handle. That’s not the point being made here, though. The beginning of 1st Corinthians 10 is a warning about how all people face temptation, even believers.
The verse right before this one (verse 12) also challenges any man to stand and make the claim that they are above it as Christ is.
Another thing to note is that while it’s true that we experience hardship that is typical of the human experience, it’s also true that men and women are constantly encountering struggles. Many of them are ones that we are incapable of resolving by our own power.
This truth is communicated by Paul in 2nd Corinthians 1:8-9:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.”
These aren’t the words of someone communicating that God hasn’t ever put something greater than he could handle before him. It is an admission that the walk of a Christ follower is incredibly difficult. And yet, it is by the grace of God that it has become worth it.
Why it’s not actually helpful
While we might think we are being encouraging, there are a number of reasons it doesn’t actually help someone who going through a truly difficult circumstance:
It’s a response that lacks any real care. It is a pretty rote answer that doesn’t require any relationship or empathy. Anyone can say something like that, but it takes thoughtful prayer, empathy, and the willingness to suffer along with the individual to display true caring.
It typically leaves the recipient feeling discouraged. The recipient doesn’t hear anything about God, they just hear that there is something specifically wrong with them that they can’t overcome.
And that’s true, but comes across in a way that communicates isolation, not common experience.
It misplaces the burden of resolution in the hands of the sufferer instead of God. The only one who is capable of helping us overcome temptation or suffering is our faithful Father through the power of Christ on the cross and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In summation, we don’t want people wrongly believing that they should be the ones to fix their problems. Our whole faith is predicated on our inability and God’s tremendous power and grace to save and transform us.
Nicholas Clark is Pastor of First Baptist Church.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association.