Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil,
To say, that we all have been through a lot the past year would be an understatement. It has been challenging and it has put our nerves on edge on so many levels. But, if we’re honest, it’s not only this past year, but quite honestly there have been so many moments throughout the years that have felt like we were walking through hell without a water gun. Yesterday, Shi and I were talking about some difficult moments in our past, other places and other people, and my right eyelid started twitching all by itself and it felt like someone was pushing an ice pick through my forehead. I haven’t had a trauma response like that in a long time.
Here is the thought that often runs through our minds, “God won’t give me more than I can handle.” Sometimes we say it with a groan or a frown or a sense of resignation that God is doing this to me, and it has to be for my own good somehow. I’ve often wondered where that little phrase comes from. It is often mistaken as being a quote from a bible verse, but it’s not. God won’t give me more than I can handle is actually not anywhere in the Bible at all.
Probably, the closest phrase in the Bible comes from 1 Corinthians 10:13:
“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.”
This quote has a completely different thought to it. Do you notice the difference in the direction of where the action is coming from?
In the non-biblical thought, “God won’t give me more than I can handle,” the direction is God acting almost against us, pushing us to see what we can handle. Have you ever seen that show, Dr. Pimple Popper? The dermatologist pushes, squeezes and trims these massive pimples and cysts until they burst. That’s the picture of God that this phrase creates. God is up there in His Heavens far away squeezing and squeezing and squeezing us to see how long it takes for us to pop. I know, I’ve said occasionally, “God must think I can handle a lot to give me all this!” Then we have the real thought, that we’re not that strong and we can’t really handle it at all.
But in the Biblical thought, the direction is completely different. The word used here for temptation in the Greek peirasmos, means temptation in the familiar sense that we normally use the word, but it also means the experience of evil, and the experience of adversity. It is used to describe bad things happening either through our own actions, the actions of others, or the consequences of simply living in a natural and free world. The biblical author states clearly, all the bad stuff that we experience is normal in a broken and sinful world and is common to the human experience. God is not poking you specifically. So, the direction of the action happening here, is humanity doing it to themselves and to each other and God coming down to strengthen his people and provide ways for them to endure the hardships of the world.
To reinforce this thought more, we hear the same in our Epistle reading today from the book of James 1.
Vs. 13: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
The word for tempted, peirasmos is the same word here as in the previous passage. God does not pretend he is Dr. Pimple Popper and try to see how much it would take for us to pop. Instead, where does the hardship of this world come from? Vss. 14-15:
“But each person is peirasmos (tempted, experiencing hardship, adversity) when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”.
We peirasmos ourselves and we peirasmos to each other. Instead, vss. 16-17 tells us about what God does do for us.
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”
God strengthens and upholds us-not squeezing us.
So, why is this phrase, “God won’t give me more than I can handle,” so easy for us to say and hold on to? Speaking it like it is Gospel truth, when it doesn’t come from Biblical or Christian thought at all? I think there are a couple of reasons.
- We want to see ourselves as strong- We want to see ourselves as the heroes in this story. The strong ones who overcome the odds and defeat the enemy. We don’t say this, but we might think it. “We showed you God, you dished it out and I took it and made it. See there, God!!!”
- We want to feel like we are in control- It’s the “don’t worry God, I can handle all of my problems today,” kind of attitude. The, “I’ll call you when it gets serious and I can’t handle it, otherwise stay out of my way so I can live how I want to live” attitude.
- We don’t want to admit we are weak- This is really the crux of the situation. We don’t want to face the reality of our own weakness and neediness. We pretend we can handle it when we can’t we try to escape the reality of it through all of the hurtful stuff we run to when we want to escape.
Here is the reality. Life is too hard for us. We have in our lives, so often, way—way more than we can handle. We’re tough cookies, each and every one of us, no doubt about it, but we’re not that strong. Ultimately, the only things we can control are what we do and say, nothing else. That doesn’t often work out well either. Often, it is what we do and say that gets us into peirasmos, in the first place!
But this is where the switch in our thinking has to occur. Our God is our strength not our persecutor, He is our friend not our enemy. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Instead of pretending we’ve got it on our own we have a safe and secure place to run to for strength and encouragement to in every moment of need. With our God, we are given eternal perspective and a picture of Heaven where peirasmos can never occur to us again. When we come to our Lord with all of our adversity that is more than we can handle, it is not more than God can handle. We give all of our peirasmos, all of our hurt and adversity to our God who loves us and leave it there in His arms and let him be control of all of the things we can’t.