“God will never give you more than you can bear.”
This is a common phrase that people tell one another in the name of Jesus (or maybe just in the name of any God).
I know that there have been many who have received comfort with this thought… and others who have experienced guilt from thinking that if this is true, then they should be handling their situation better than they are.
Sadly, though, I think there is some serious error in the sentiment.
First, it is not scriptural.
Did you know that the phrase “Play it again, Sam” never appears in the movie “Casablanca” … and allegedly, the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” is never spoken in the original Star Trek series? (as big fan as I am of the movies, I do not know the original series well enough to verify this)…
It must be just as surprising to many that this phrase “God will never give you more than you can bear” does not appear in the Christian or Hebrew Holy books. (in truth, there are many things people think are there but aren’t. Check it out.
The closest passage, and the one that most people go to in defense of this statement is 1 Cor 10:13. Here it is:
“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.” (ESV)
Here we have a passage that is about idolatry, and in particular, temptation. What God promises is to never allow anyone to be tempted beyond their ability to resist the temptation.
It does not say that God will never allow us to face more than we can bear in regards to grief, pain, abuse, debt, hurt etc… (for a much deeper look into the grief side of things, check out this series on grief)…
Further, check out Jesus’ words about the early Christian life in Matthew 24:9-10: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” (ESV)
Or even better…
“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” (John 16:2)
Apparently, God never giving us more than we can bear would not include being hated, betrayed, persecuted, and killed… sometimes in God’s own name! Suffering to the point of death must not be considered “more than we can bear” since God allows and even sometimes brings all kinds of suffering into His people’s lives.
So, as another example of God giving someone more than they can at even survive…
John the Baptist suffers in prison until he is beheaded. (Matt 14)
Jesus was beaten and crucified.
Job was crushed in every way but final, and I always thought his survival might have been the worst of all the pain he was given to face.
I think my favorite person to ask this question would be Paul… listen to this that God allowed in His life!
“…Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:24-27)
Eventually, church history says that Paul was also beheaded.
So, not “more than we can bear” must not include things that actually kill us.
Apparently, life is more than we can bear, since we all leave it someday.
But would God bring us to suffer – to give us so much that we bleed? The writer of Hebrews chastises his/her audience bc they “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood!”
Romans 8:17 tells us that we suffer with Him so we can be glorified with Him!
Also Paul makes clear in Phil 3:10-11 that he rejoices in sharing in the sufferings of Christ to the point of death so that he can share in the resurrection with Him too!
How about this one from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians 1:8:
8 “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”
They were afflicted “beyond (their) strength” – that sounds like exactly the opposite of saying it wasn’t more than they could bear. It was, in his own words, beyond their strength.
Maybe, then, the phrase would be meant to make us feel guilty for seeking help from others? After all, if God doesn’t give us more than we can bear, then we should be able to bear, alone, whatever He sends our way… right? I think we will start there next time…