A Flippant Phrase as Self-Help Psychology (and Bad Doctrine)

Many people have heard the phrase, “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  The person who says it always has the best of intentions; be it whispered in hushed tones either to an acquaintance who has just endured a hugely tragic event; or be it uttered in the tone of a knowing elder to someone struggling with an addiction or a particularly nagging sin issue.  But let’s be honest here.  Quite often, the reply from the intended benefactor is a resounding, “Bull#*@!”

The phrase in question, (the first one, not the second) is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian’s, chapter 10, verse 13:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear…”

In the original Greek, the words ‘temptation’ and ‘tempted’ can also be read as ‘testing’ or ‘tested’.

Too often though, in our good intentions, we forget that there is a second part to that instruction from Paul.  The entire verse reads:

“No temptation [testing] has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted [or, tested] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

As always, in my humble opinion, the Amplified version provides us with a more thorough picture of Paul’s intentions with this teaching:

“For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear]. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted and tried and assayed beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out (the means of escape to a landing place), that you may be capable and strong and powerful to bear up under it patiently.

As you can see with this translation, the ‘but’ is included as one continuous thought to the first part of that verse as I believe it was meant to be.

Does God (or Life, or Karma, etc.) give you more than you can handle?  On your own, possibly, yes.  But . . . God ‘will also provide a way out so that you can endure it’.  How?  Through his Word and the compassionate involvement of those God has placed around you.  It is up to you—your choice—to see and take advantage of the ‘provision’ God has provided.

When faced with tragedy, do you raise your eyes from your sorrow long enough to see the compassion and provision that surrounds you; freely given in loving hands by family, friends, possibly even sympathetic strangers?  It’s okay to accept it.  It’s okay to eat the meal, cry on the shoulder, or rage at the person sitting across from you over coffee…that’s what they’re there for…that’s why God provided them to you.

When faced with sin, do you raise your eyes from the temptation long enough to see an exit door, an off switch, a phone to call a friend…just to say ‘hi’ (as a distraction, if not to confess your tempting).  Do it!  That’s what they’re there for…that’s why God provided them to you.

It is also up to those around you to BE the compassion, to get involved, to answer the phone, provide the shoulder, buy the coffee and graciously accept the rage.  In other words, to get our hands dirty with the work of ‘providing the way out’.  That often means more than espousing a flippant phrase intended as self-help psychology.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.”  That’s right…but it may be because you’re there!

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2 thoughts on “A Flippant Phrase as Self-Help Psychology (and Bad Doctrine)”

  1. Yes, agreed. I have always seen this verse wrongly used, when I’m certain God gives us more than we can handle for the very reason to rely on God. We need only to see 2 Corinthians 12 to know God gave Paul more than he could handle — not mentioning Paul was flogged, arrested, knocked out with stones, shipwrecked, deathly sick, had eye problems, and was bitten by a snake — so yeah, we’d do wise to have a clear theology on pain.

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