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Bible Verses That Don’t Mean What We Think They Mean I Corinthians 10:13

Do you want to know how it’s going to be a rotten day?

You wake up and the news is showing emergency routes out of the city.

Your twin sister forgets your birthday.

The exterminator climbs up into your attic and never comes out.

You know it’s going to be a bad day when…

The bird singing outside your window is a vulture.

A black cat crosses your path and drops dead.

You call your wife and tell her that you would like to eat out and when you get home, there’s a sandwich on the front porch.

Yep, there are bad days…and bad months…and even bad years.

In 2015, I had to get treatment for a torn rotator cuff and pinched back nerve…I had an infected cyst taken out of my neck…my oldest son was involved in a serious car accident…and just before the holidays, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Yep, 2015 was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year.

But in despite of all that, I am so very grateful that no one came up to me and chirped, “Well, remember what First Corinthians 10:13 says: ‘God never gives you any more than you can handle!’”

I might have lost it.

First of all, as I’ve written in previous posts, we always need to put an isolated verse in its context. If you read the beginning of I Corinthians 10, Paul describes the temptations that the wandering Israelites gave into after the Exodus. They committed sexual immorality, grumbled against Moses, and constantly tested God. Because of their hard hearts, many couldn’t enter the Promised Land and perished in the wilderness.

Paul goes on to warn the church to not succumb to temptations as the children of Israel did. This verse isn’t talking about bearing up under burdens that God gives us, but escaping the temptations that invariably come to us. He tells the Christians at Corinth to be on their guard against the pride that whispers, “You’re too strong to fall to sin.” He adds that no temptation is unusual; any enticement that presses in on us has already been part of the human experience – and I might add, many have overcome. The apostle reminds the church that God is faithful and always provides an escape if they will take it. 

Sometimes, We Are Given More Than We Can Handle

One of the biggest problems with the “God never gives you more than you can handle” thinking is that it implies that God is the direct author of pain and suffering.  The death of a loved one, a serious illness, the accident that left a friend paralyzed, the breakdown of your a/c unit right after you were laid off from your job – all come directly from God. Mother Teresa even implied this thinking when she quipped, “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

That’s bad theology because 1) it makes God out to be the source of misfortune and, in some cases, evil and 2) it puts undue stress on someone who is already under stress. Imagine going to the funeral of bereaved parents or displaced refugees in a war-torn land and saying, “Don’t worry – God won’t give you any more than you can handle!” I don’t think that’s helpful at all.

This erroneous statement also tells me that I have what it takes when circumstances crush me. It tells me I can endure whatever comes my way. It tells me God hands over trials according to my human ability to power through. This conventional saying points people inward. I have counseled many suffering people who have told me, “I got nothing.” I know the feeling – and so does the Apostle Paul. Here’s what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, describing the severe trials that he and his companions underwent in Asia Minor: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.”

Does that sound like someone who wasn’t given anymore than he could handle?

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?

But Paul goes on to write this: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers” (2 Cor. 1:9b-11).

When he was tempted to give up, Paul turns Godward, not inward. God does not guarantee easy times all the time, but He does promise that He is with us in the hard times. He is there to lend us His resurrection power when our resistance to sin is dead. This theme thunders throughout the scriptures like a grand pipe organ:

To Israel, God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isaiah 43:2-3)

To His disciples, Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am with you even until the end of time” (John 14:18; Matthew 28:20).

The Apostle Paul, again to the Corinthian church, writes: “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, The Message).

A lot of things in life are more than we can handle. But it’s never more than God can handle. In His caring hands, every tear we shed is collected, and from those same hands, weary hearts are fed and empty spirits filled.

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