Jesus Never Said: “God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”

more than you can handle

We attribute lots of things to Jesus and/or the bible.

Lots of things.

We go to the bible for our political views.
We give Jesus credit for our slogans.
We use ideas that have been handed down to us without testing them, and assume they are biblical.

We all have likely done this at one time or another.

After all, we are human beings.
Not only do we hand ideas down through the various channels of culture, but we have a common adversary: pain.

Pain is what happens when the world is out of sorts.

Injustice often reigns when in fact we believe that Jesus reigns simultaneously.

One, injustice, is fueled by evil (fallen angelic powers, systems created by corrupted humans, etc.).
The other, God’s kingdom, is fueled by Jesus himself.

Often, we blend things in such a way that these distinctions become convoluted.
Here’s what I mean….


There’s a cliche that floats around, that is often attributed to the bible.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

What is often meant by this is that when a follower of Jesus is either facing temptation or walking through a painful circumstance, that we need not worry.

God is both “giving” us this set of challenges and knows we have a lid to what we can “handle.” Thus, God won’t give us “more.”

But if injustice (all the things that are wrong with the world) is fueled by evil, then how could it be that God is “giving” these things to us?

Therein lies the issue. The slogan itself attributes to God the things that don’t belong to God.

God desires that we grow in our capacity to “handle” whatever comes our way, whether they be internal challenges with self-imposed lids or the outflow of a world haunted by evil.


When it comes to the self-imposed lids to what we can “handle,” here I have in mind the things that block us from growth and creativity.
These are likely the sorts of limitations we will be freed from in God’s renewed creation, but ones that we must face if we choose the path of growth: whether in matters of spirituality, character, or creativity.

Scientists continue to find that we are creatures with more capacity for growth than we can even imagine.

With the right set of tools, focus, technique, coaching, and raw grit, it is possible to “handle” more and thus have personal breakthroughs that lead to fresh creativity! (I wish I could say more about this, but I have in mind the research in the book Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool–a great book!).

Just when we think we have reached our lid, it is possible to refine our approach to a particular issue in which we desire growth, and to see real growth! (Within reason, meaning, if you are really short, you can improve your vertical leap, but may never be able to dunk, and so on).

Apply that to “God won’t give you more than you can handle” and I suggest that: God wants to show us that we can handle more than we give ourselves credit for!


But, there’s another factor that needs to be named.

If this slogan were indeed true, what do we say of the mother who has no food to feed her young child?

As that child’s belly distends and bloats, and as that child eventually dies of hunger, I would venture to say that “God won’t give you more than you can handle” simply doesn’t work.

That poor baby child had way more than she could handle. So did that mother.

True, God didn’t give that situation to that child: evil did.

But again, that simply shows how such a slogan breaks down quite quickly.

For us in the West, with lots of resources, sometimes it takes reflecting on a situation that grim to see why the cliche doesn’t work.


And of course, the concept itself isn’t in the Bible.

The closest we get, comes to us from the apostle Paul:

No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10.13, CEB)

But in this passage, in the context, he is talking about the temptation to do what the Hebrew people did: turn away from God and to idols.

He spends quite a bit of time, leading up to this verse, recalling the exodus journey. God’s people wanted to go back to Egypt! They wanted the easy way out.

Paul, here says, the easy way out–the way of idolatry–isn’t a temptation worth acting on!

God’s way out, fidelity with the way of Jesus, is the only way to stand up under the challenge: it is the only way to access God’s resources to “be able to endure it.”


So, claiming that “God won’t give you more than you can handle” isn’t that helpful.

Certainly these are words that are used in the most sincere way.
I am not questioning anyone’s motives. They are typically pure and at times, such a slogan can be helpful.

However, there are more ways to comfort people in times of stress, that don’t accidentally attribute evil in the world to God as some sort of “test” to teach us a lesson.

At the same time I do think that God can use the pain or struggles in our lives, as we tap into the resources we have in Christian community, self-leadership, and Jesus himself: to help us break through the lids in our lives.

Jesus can use pain to bring about growth, without ever being the cause of it.
Instead, I sense that Jesus wants us to name the pain rather than numb it.
Pushing through certain kinds of pain (here I have in mind even our limitations that hold us back from fresh acts of creativity) can bring new life.

Then, perhaps we can implement deliberate practices to honestly move into pain, through pain, and out of pain, into a greater capacity to live and love in God’s world.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to always be true with certain forms of pain. Some things are more than any person could handle.

As far as it depends on us, however, when resources actually exist to move through pain: we can see real change in our lives.

"You used to watch Bill O'Reilly? Ow, that had to be painful."

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  • jekylldoc

    Well sorted, I would say. Good thought. However, I have a quibble. Not everything that goes wrong is a sign of “evil.” People have starved all through history, and long before. Starvation is generally a sign that we have not fully mastered the economic requirements of dealing with the variations in the weather.

    Many other kinds of pain, such as seeing children with fatal degenerative diseases, have nothing to do with evil. To keep your theology straight, it is important to notice that regularly.

    • http://KurtWillems.com Kurt Willems

      Actually, the cosmic forces of evil are the spiritual cause of why this world has tilted toward sickness, etc. A great book on this is God at War by Greg Boyd.
      Peace.

      KURT WILLEMS, M.Div.

      Lead Pastor, Pangea Church (Seattle, Wa.) http://theologycurator.com/newsletter

  • Nimblewill

    “Mama says, ‘God won’t give you too much to bear’/It might be true in Arkansas but I’m a long, long way from there/That whole world’s an old and faded picture in my mind/Am I the last of my kind?”

    Last of My Kind, Jason Isbell