“God will never give you more than you can handle”

People use a lot of cliches when they are dealing with those who are suffering.  There is much truth to some of them, but it has occured to me that it might be good to spend some time examining exactly what we’re saying when we use them.  Words mean things.  And the words we use can effect what we believe about things.  

 “God will never give you more than you can handle”.

This saying strikes me as inaccurate in two aspects.  The first is that it calls to mind an image of God standing back with an armful of suffering, shoveling it out to his unsuspecting children, filling them up with it until they are just about to topple over, then stops.  The next picture in my mind is of a person floundering around shouldering the enormous burden while God sits back and watches.  This image is not accurate, of course.

God is all good. He is Goodness, Love, Perfection.  Suffering is a lack of a good.  Therefore, it cannot be “given”, and even if it could, it could not be given by God!  Suffering is a result of sin, either directly or by the fact that Original Sin earned us a fallen world.  Sickness, the toil of work, the pain of childbearing and rearing and especially death were not the original plan.  God permits suffering because it honors our freedom and because, through his mysterious providence, it somehow works out for our good, if we let it.  Just as he allowed his Son to suffer and so to win our salvation, so can suffering well borne, be a participation in the salvation of the world. It is not given merely for us to “handle”.

Secondly, I don’t know that it is true that he only gives us what we can handle.  In real life and online I have met many people who have lost children.  To be frank, there are many who can’t handle it!  I don’t think any one of us can.  Those who seem to be coping fairly well, from what I can see, are those who have faith.  I would venture to guess that it is because we realize that we can’t handle the loss and we are reaching out for help from God. 

I think this is another reason why God allows us to suffer.  It is too easy when things are going really well to settle into the comfort of believing we gained all this for ourselves.  But when we are experiencing difficulty, when we come face to face with the fact that we cannot control that which is most precious to us, we come to realize that we can’t make it on our own. 

This is no ego trip for God.  Like everything he does, it is for our good.  Because even if we could control our temporal lives, our eternal ones are beyond our reach.  Our salvation is more than we can handle, and if temporal things help us remember that, then we are on good ground.

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2 responses to ““God will never give you more than you can handle”

  1. Gloria

    Your title caught my attention because I use that phrase – only just a bit different.
    “God does not allow more than I can handle with Him by my side.” Allow being the key word. If it is happening to me than I either believe that God is aware of it and could stop it if He chose or He is off on vacation somewhere and doesn’t know what is happening to me. I believe that first part. I take great comfort in the fact that, even as in Job’s case, God is aware of all things and He is in control. Meaning, for me, that whenever bad things happen I have a choice to either let it push me to despair or to hold onto to God and allow my trust and faith to grow. The key is, we really have no idea how much we can handle with God on our side. I don’t know anyone who has experienced a modern day Job trial.
    I agree that words make a difference. Words are powerful.

  2. I continually find such insight and perspective from your blog. After losing my daughter, Angelica, I have also pondered suffering, loss and what “God’s plan” really is- how actively God intervenes and when and how. I have found myself tending away from many of the common sayings, as you’ve mentioned, because when I’ve thought about them, they didn’t really make all that much sense to me. Some people said, “It’s in God’s timing. God’s not ready for you to be parents yet.” I remember thinking, “But women addicted to heroine on the streets are? Women who abuse their children are? Would I be a worse mother than all of the women who do have healthy, living children?” Likewise, I have pondered many of your points about other sayings. I’ve really begun to think that sometimes we say things to make ourselves feel better, to make ourselves make sense of things that, for this moment at least, are truly senseless. It’s hard to wrap our minds around, as you say, a plan that is bigger and better than whatever we want for ourselves. Anyway, your insight and words have been truly inspiring and comforting in this very difficult time of my life. Please continue to write as I’m sure you touch more people than you realize- your reflections on suffering have certainly shed light on difficult issues for me and helped me to grow deeper in faith instead of losing it. My prayers are with you.

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