It’s popular in Christian circles to say to someone who is going through difficult times, God will never give you more than you can handle. While I write from an Evangelical perspective, I assume that this is quoted in most branches of Christianity. I have said it in the past myself.
But is it true? Is it true that God will never give you more than you can handle?
One caveat here, I also assume that by handle we mean face them in a good and godly way without sinking into despair, questioning our faith, struggling with God, or worse yet, dying. It seems to me that none of these can qualify as handling our trials.
I’ve tried to research where this came from and it seems that most people who have looked into it trace it back to 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Commentators will tell you that the Greek word, here translated as temptation can mean either a trial or a temptation to sin and that is true. So, the question is, which is Paul talking about? Is he talking about a trial that comes into your life or is he talking about a temptation to sin? It makes a difference!
I think that two different episodes in the New Testament help to clarify this issue.
One is the Apostle Paul who face a serious trial in his life that he called his thorn in the flesh. It was so distressing to Paul that three times he asked God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Remember that Paul had a long litany of trials – he was shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, thrown into prison, run out of various towns, and in his own words, been exposed to death again and again (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). But he never asked God to remove these from his life.
Whatever his thorn in the flesh was, it was something that he desperately wanted God to remove – but He didn’t. Paul had to live with this trial. There was no way of escape that God had promised for him.
The other example is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed and asked God if it was possible to remove the extreme suffering of the cross that He was about to faced. God didn’t. Jesus endured unbelievable pain and suffering. His only way of escape was death.
My point is that both Paul and Jesus faced tremendous suffering which they asked God to remove it, but He didn’t. It was suffering that they felt they could not endure and in Jesus’ case, He died because of it. There was no way of escape outside of death.
God does not always make the way of escape from the trials of life.
So, 1 Corinthians 10:13 cannot be talking about trials. I believe that this passage is talking about temptations to sin and there is always a way to escape temptations even if it just means running from them.
So back to the original statement: God will never give you more than you can handle.
Yes, God will sometimes give us trials that are more than we can handle, even if (and this should always be true of us) we face them in His strength. I think that this was the Apostle Paul’s testimony when he wrote: For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8).
When someone is suffering, don’t tell them that God will never give you more than you can handle. Tell them that God is present in their suffering and although they, and you, may not understand it, God is working in their lives in some unknown, mysterious way.
The bottom line is, we have to Trust when we can’t explain.
Stay in the Word