What The Bible Does’t Say: God Won’t Put On You More Than You Can Handle (Wednesday Night Reflection)
I’d like us to start tonight with what I think is the most common misinterpretation of Scripture that I have heard since I have been in the ministry. The words are usually spoken to offer support and encouragement to someone who is struggling under a heavy burden (or maybe even more than a single burden). I have also heard the words spoken by someone struggling under the weight of several burdens as a means, I think, to state their confidence in God.
How many of you have ever heard, maybe even said, these words, “God won’t give you more than you can handle”? How many here have always thought that “God won’t give you [or God won’t put on you] more than you can handle” is actually in the Bible? The truth is that it does not appear anywhere in Scripture…and once we stop to think about it, we realize just what a difficult and dangerous statement these, often well-meaning, words are.
First off, it gives us the wrong interpretation as to God’s role in our burdens. It paints the picture as if God is the one constantly placing burdens upon us until we are bent over double under the weight of those burdens. I’ve heard people comment that they know God won’t give us any more than we can handle but they are wondering just how strong God thinks we are. The problem is that this is completely wrong thinking about how God relates to our burdens. If we stop and think about it, we will quickly realize that most of the burdens that we carry are a result of our actions or the actions of those around us or simply the fallen world that we live in where bad things happen (Jesus quickly points that God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust). Even in the story of Job, God was not pictured as the one who placed burdens on Job…God allowed it, but it was the adversary, satan, who caused all of Job’s difficulties. God is not a burden giver…God does not cause bad or evil things to happen to happen. The truth of the matter is, when we look to what Scripture actually says, we find that when it comes to our burdens, God is does not add to our burdens, but constantly seeks to relieve those burdens:
Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved.”
Psalm 81:6-7 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribam. Selah”
And Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
It wasn’t, though, until a month ago, that I realized just how painful this verse can be for a person in a difficult circumstance. Anita and I have someone that has become a dear friend over the course of the last few years. Near the end of January or early February, she learned that she was pregnant. Usually that would be a celebratory time, and it was for her, but also a concern as it was unexpected, and she is only a couple of years younger than myself. Well, about a month ago, as all the excitement about the pregnancy was building, she went for her 10-week ultrasound. They could not find a heartbeat. The ultrasound revealed that there were twins, and that they had stopped developing at 6 weeks. She was devastated. Friends tried to console her with, “God won’t put any more on you than you can handle.” What she heard in that statement was that God didn’t think that they would be able to handle twins, and so God took them from her. Imagine the pain and distrust of God that this understanding could create! Not only is it problematic to think of God “taking” anyone away from us (that’s a whole other sermon), it also misses the understanding that when we encounter more than we can handle, God doesn’t remove that situation from us, He gives us the strength to bear it and overcome. Paul told the Corinthians that he prayed for relief from the thorn in his side…that burden that he was struggling to bear…yet God didn’t take it from him, instead God assured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Elsewhere, addressing a different situation, Paul offers this statement of faith, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” God gives us strength when we are weak.
So, the question that some of us may be asking…as I myself did when first realizing that “God won’t put any more on you than you can handle” was not in the Bible, is to wonder where in the world did this problematic, if well-meaning, statement derive? Most likely it comes from a misinterpretation of 1st Corinthians 10:13 which reads, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape that you may be able to endure it.”
In other words, what Paul says in this passage is that temptations and trials are going to come our way, however there is no temptation or trial that we will have to go through that is unique to us…everyone has had to face them. Hebrews even reminds us that any temptation that we face, Christ Himself has undergone and therefore understands… “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Yet, as Paul tells the Corinthians, God is not going to let us be tested or tempted beyond our ability to deal with it, for every temptation we face, God will offer a means of escape. God will offer us an out. Hebrews tells us God will pour His grace out upon us and be “our help in time of need.”
So as we discern, my brothers and sisters, what the Scriptures don’t say, and do say, we discover that God is not the source of our burdens, nor will He take anything away from us that we cannot handle, but that God will give us want we need to endure and overcome! Thanks be to God for what the Bible does say!