I hear this from time to time and I see that for some people it is a faith builder while for others it is a faith destroyer. For the faith builder this statement is a reminder that it is all going to be alright because God must certainly think they can handle whatever comes their way. For the faith destroyer this statement builds doubt about God because the experience doesn’t match the theology resulting in a big question mark put at the end of a seeming godly, scriptural and faithful statement.
So what gives? Does God truly not give us more than we can handle? Does everything that comes on our plate come from God or at least is it all allowed by God?
This idea comes out of 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here it is with just a bit of context,
“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 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. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.“
The first thing you probably noticed is that this isn’t about the number of “bad” things that come our way. This isn’t about circumstance and life situations. This is about temptation. This is not a promise that your life will never be too overwhelming. This is a promise that God will always provide a way through temptation if we are willing to take it, even endure it.
The second thing that jumps out to me is that the pronouns are plural just as Paul wasn’t writing this to an individual Corinthian but the Christians in Corinth. You see that first and most obviously in the first sentence, “These things…were written down as warnings for us.” But then we get lost in the “you” shuffle because in English you cannot tell if “you” is singular or plural unless you are from the South but the NIV doesn’t give us that luxury. The pronouns are plural which means that even in temptation we are not alone. We are to stand together to resist and endure temptation…to find and take the way out that God provides together.
The Bible has never been about rugged individualism. We impose that on the text due to our culture and due to lack of distinction in 2nd person pronouns (you) of singular and plural. I don’t know about you but there are some things that I can’t really handle by myself and I think that is the rub of the statement is that it implies a rugged individualism that isn’t really found in the pages of scripture. It is refreshing to hear that some burdens, even temptations, just aren’t to be carried alone but should be carried in community.
So the next time you are tempted to comfort someone with the phrase, God won’t give you more than you can bear…keep in mind the context and the community of what Paul is talking about. Pitch in and help them with their difficulties. When you are tempted, seek the help of fellow Christians. It is easier to find the “way out” in community than in isolation.