I Can't Handle Everything and Neither Can You

“When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Have you heard that one? I have - in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve said it more than once. It sounds Biblical - and perhaps a casual reading of I Corinthians 10:13 would lead us to believe it is true. It’s the passage where Paul tells us that God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we’re able to bear. However, handling temptation is a world away from the hardships and sufferings God tells us we will face on this broken, fallen world.

This week has been intense - I experienced the worst flare-up in chronic pain in almost three years. It literally brought my world to a stand-still - and also brought me to my knees before the Lord, asking him to help me figure out how to do this thing called life while experiencing such incredible pain. It was, without a doubt, way, way more than I was able to handle.

God was not unaware of this fact, and in his grace and mercy gave me a number of much-needed tools to help cope with my situation. I met two of my best friends to chat over coffee and pray; my mom had her prayer warriors intercede on my behalf, I opened up to my wife and prayed with her in the morning and at night before bed, and I stopped often throughout my day to talk with Jesus and ask for his strength.

A few days ago I found an excellent article from author Nate Pyle titled “I Can’t Handle Everything and Neither Can You.” I loved what he said about “God won’t give you more than you can handle:”

Far too often, interpretations of Scripture that make sense when life is generally comfortable are taken as true. But if the interpretation only works in the suburbs, where our lawns are trimmed and our pretenses are secured like vinyl siding, then it’s probably safe to assume that the interpretation doesn’t work. Apply the idea that God won’t give you more than you can handle to other situations, and it’s blatantly obvious that this idea only works in relatively benign situations.

He then uses some stark examples to illustrate how shallow and meaningless the phrase can be - a survivor of Auschwitz, a young girl sold into prostitution, a Christian in Iraq who has lost everything to ISIS, a mother who lost her daughter to a Palestinian bomber, a father in the impoverished Cambodian countryside who stepped on a land mine and can no longer work to support his family. Would “God won’t give you more than you can handle” be a comfort to any of these people? Is it much comfort to the person dealing with stage 4 cancer, lifelong depression, a devastating natural disaster, or any number of tragedies?

So what’s the real reason we say this? Pyle digs into this question and comes to the following conclusions:

Seems cold, even heartless, no? A tone-deaf response imploring good ole American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” theology to situations involving people understandably overwhelmed by a brutal world. It doesn’t offer help but merely provides the speaker an opportunity to not get involved—to distance themselves from any responsibility. There’s no need to help because they should be able to handle it... One can’t help but wonder if the phrase isn’t more for the person who offers it as misguided comfort. Seeing others suffer shakes our confidence in human durability and embarrasses us. A kind of survivor’s guilt washes over us as we thank the Lord for our well-being when confronted with another’s adversity. We feel that we should help them, while at the same time we feel guilty because of our packed schedules. Overwhelmed by the suffering in front of us, we distance ourselves from it in order to relieve our discomfort.

Where, then, is our hope? This is our hope:

It is when we are at our frailest that Christ’s power can rest on us (see verse 9). In other words, when we can no longer keep going. When we’re fed up. When we’re empty. Confused. Exhausted. In over our heads. When life is too much to handle. In those moments, the strength of Christ’s resurrection will be seen in us. This is gospel news. This is good news.

There’s bad news - life will sometimes bring things just too big for us to handle. The good news? God knows this - and impossible is the very place he meets us. It’s in our death that we find life in Jesus Christ - and that is good news!