Faith Fallacies: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

Faith Fallacies: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle February 18, 2024

God placing a load of bricks on a struggling man’s back
Created with AI 2/17/2024

Time for another edition of Faith Fallacies, where we take a look at ideas that people think are in the Bible or are part of Christianity but actually are not. Today’s fallacy is this:

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

Yup. That’s right. Not Biblical. Not Christian.

And if you really think about what it’s saying, I don’t think we would want it to be anyway.

Why is that? How is this well-intentioned statement of support unbiblical? And why wouldn’t we want it to be biblical in the first place?

Is It Really Not In the Bible?

Despite its popularity with Christians, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. The closest we get is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which in the NRSV translation reads, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

But isn’t that basically the same idea? If God isn’t going to let you be tested beyond your strength, isn’t it just saying in so many words that God won’t give you more than you can handle?

The problem here isn’t that I’m being overly pedantic and picky. The problem is context and translation.

Translation is Tricky

Reading the First Corinthians verse, it makes sense to think of “testing” as we commonly do—suffering trials and tribulations, experiencing trauma or grief or fear or anything along those lines. But the Greek word that is translated as “testing” here is πειρασμὸς (peirasmos). It appears twice in the verse, along with a different form of the word which is translated as “will be tested.”

As it turns out, the primary English translation for the Greek word πειρασμὸς is “temptation.” As an example, it’s the word used when Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. While it is sometimes translated as “testing,” it all depends on the context.

And if you read what comes before and what comes after First Corinthians 10:13, you see that almost the entire chapter deals with a variety of things that could potentially tempt the intended audience. Three examples:

So this “testing” that Paul says we’ll be able to handle? Yeah, it’s temptation.

Some Implications

Okay, so it’s not Biblical. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a good thing, right? Not all observations about God have to come straight from the Bible, and maybe this is just something we can infer from other ways God has been revealed through the Bible as well as through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

But there isn’t. Nor should there be.

Because what happens when something comes along that you can’t handle? When you’re at the end of your rope, when you just can’t take another step, when you just can’t face whatever monster is under the bed anymore? What happens when your brain is sick, just like what’s possible with any other organ in the body? What if the pain, the fear, the shame, the grief…whatever it might be, what if it really is too much to handle?

Because trust me, it can be.

And when it is, to have another person—no matter how well-meaning—walk up and tell you that God won’t give you anything you can’t handle? Instead of comfort, those words become daggers.

“If God won’t give me anything that I can’t handle, and I’m not handling this, then am I letting God down? Is my faith just too weak to get through this thing that God thinks I should be able to handle?”

That right there is one way religious trauma begins.

“God Did This to Me”

Not only that, but there’s another implication that comes out of God not giving you anything you can’t handle.

Who here is doing the giving? It’s God.

It’s God who killed my friend or family member, bringing this grief into my life. It’s God who made my loved one go through excruciating pain. It’s God giving me the voices in my head that keep telling me that everyone hates me.

No. That’s not who God is.

The theological term for the way it all works is this:

Stuff (or insert any other more colorful word you may wish) happens.

The world contains brokenness. Humankind contains brokenness. And broken things tend to break other things.

If we believe that God is most fully revealed in Jesus, then we can’t possibly believe that God gives us the things that we may or may not be able to handle. The two are incompatible.

Jesus’s Purpose in Our Pain

Jesus came to heal the world, not to bring it even more heartache. Jesus came to comfort the afflicted. Jesus came to welcome the outsider. Jesus came not because God was giving us the terrible things in our lives.

Jesus came to earth so we could see that when the terrible things in our lives do happen, God does not abandon us. That it’s not up to us to handle anything. That there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from God’s love.

And that includes the cross.

In the cross, we did the worst we could possibly do to Jesus. We brought the terrible pain, suffering, grief, and death he endured. God didn’t do that. We did. But not even that, not even death itself could keep God from showing infinite love for us as Jesus rose.

The Beatitudes

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) are another great example of God putting things right and healing through Jesus, not bringing calamity. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the persecuted, the falsely accused. With each blessing comes a promise: the mourning are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, and for the poor in spirit and the persecuted, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are no caveats, no conditions, and most importantly no assertions that the difficulties each of these groups face were given to them by God.

Each of the promises boils down to this: God is on the side of those who are hurting in mind, body, or spirit. When we suffer, God suffers along with us. When we cry, God cries along with us. When Jesus’s friend Lazarus died, even though Jesus knew that he was about to raise him from the dead, he cried anyway.

The God who knows the victorious end of the story still cries with us when we cry, still listens when we cry out, and still promises “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

About Matt Schur
After graduating with a B.A. in English from Truman State and an M.A. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary, Matt Schur spent years wandering in a vocational wilderness before finally discovering his calling— assisting and advocating for the marginalized and vulnerable. He currently lives out that call as a case manager and housing specialist for people experiencing homelessness. He also serves an ELCA campus ministry part-time as its music director and pianist, and has published two books of progressive Christian poetry: “Cross Sections” (2021) and “Imperfectly Perfect” (2023). His writing has been featured in “Valiant Scribe Literary Journal,” “Unlikely Stories,” and “Cathexis Northwest Press.” You can read more about the author here.

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