“God will not give you more than you can bear.” I cannot tell you how many times I hear Christians comforting one another with these words in the face of inconceivable amounts of pain and suffering: a messy divorce, suicide, rape, a shooting, theft, adultery; depression, anxiety, cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia; a stroke, a failing heart, kidneys, lungs; a natural disaster, the loss of a job, a house, a spouse, child, grandchild, mother, father, sister, brother. . . need I go on?
Undoubtedly and inevitably to those who have come face to face with the evils of living in a sinful world, to those who have agonized over questions about why God would let this happen, or why he doesn’t fix this, or if he really loves me and cares for me, or why he has abandoned me and forsaken me, or even if there is really a god at all, to these a well-meaning “Christian” response is given: “Well, you know what the Bible says, God will not give you more than you can bear.”
Really? That’s the best we Christians can do? “God will not give you more than you can bear?” THAT’S NOT CHRISTIAN! That verse that we all seem to know and love so well, is not in the Holy Scripture. There is something that vaguely resembles the statement, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But notice, this verse is about temptation and God’s faithfulness to you in the midst of temptation. This verse does not say that in the face of inconceivable amounts of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual anguish “God will not give me more than I can bear, take, handle or have the strength to endure.” To which the other person must usually through an ocean of tears and gritted teeth respond in kind saying, “I know, I just which he didn’t trust me/think I can handle so much.” Let me reiterate, this platitude is not Scriptural, it is foreign and antithetical to Christianity, and above all, it is DANGEROUS!
This is because the cute little lethal platitude focuses on the wrong thing. This lie that masquerades as the truth focuses the person’s attention on themselves, on their skills, on their abilities and capabilities, and their dependability. And if everything depends on me, my abilities, and my capabilities, then we both know how dependable we are. Have we always done what we said we were going to do? Have we always been the best at everything we have tried to do? Have we always succeeded in everything we set out to accomplish? Let’s just call this platitude and line of thinking what it is: idolatry. We trust in ourselves, our skills, our tolerance, and our abilities to see us through. This actually leads us away from God (Genesis 3, Exodus 20:3, Exodus 32, Mark 10:17-22). What’s more, we blame our idolatry on the foreknowledge of God. Essentially we are saying, “God knows all things. He knows how good, how strong, how capable I am, therefore he will only give me that much and no more.”
Now, with this in mind, take a look at St. Paul’s words in this text: “8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” – 2 Corinthians 1:8-10
What’s Paul saying? In essence, “I can’t. I can’t fix this. I can’t shake this. I can’t make it go away. I can’t make it better. I am not strong enough. This burden, this affliction, is more than I can handle, way more, so much more that I don’t want to live anymore. It feels like I have received a death sentence.” But notice, Paul does not end his thought and sentence there. He goes on to give his hearers true, lasting hope and comfort in the face of inconceivable amounts of pain and suffering. He writes, “But that was to make us rely NOT on OURSELVES but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (emphasis mine). Paul in the face of suffering points NOT to himself, his skills, tolerance, and abilities, but RATHER to God who raises from the dead, who alone is strong, who alone is faithful, and who alone has, does, and will deliver us from all affliction through the death and resurrection of his very own son, Jesus Christ our Lord (2 Corinthians 1:10, 19-22) .
For this reason, because of Jesus alone, Paul does not and will not lose heart in the face of affliction (2 Corinthians 4:16-17). To be sure, in the face of suffering, St. Paul cries out to God, he pleads that this suffering, this thorn in the flesh, be take away. But it is not. God’s answer to him in the face of his complete and utter weakness is simply this, “My grace is sufficient for you. For my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). And that all-sufficient grace, mercy, strength, and love of God for Paul in Jesus Christ is what leads him to proclaim in the midst of weakness, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Consequently my dear Christians, in the face of inconceivable amounts of pain and suffering, let us cast aside the cute little platitude, the lethal, unscriptural idolatrous lie that “God will not give you more than you can bear” and let us give to one another the ONLY lasting truth, strength, hope, mercy, and comfort that we have in this valley of sorrows, this veil of tears, this world of sin and death: JESUS. In Jesus Christ God has seen your affliction and known the distress of your soul. And what’s more, he has delivered you from it in the most remarkable way. Jesus has suffered for you, bled for you, died for you, and has engraved you on the palms of his hands, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood. You want to know if God has abandoned you, if he loves you, still cares for you, and hears your cries for mercy? Then, my dear Christian, you need only look to the cross of Jesus, to the wounds on his hands, feet, and side. There and there alone will you find God’s great love for you in the crucified Christ. And when he rose from the dead on Easter morning, he promised you that he will never leave you nor forsake you. But be with you always, even to the end of the age, even in the valley of the shadow of death. He will bring you safely to himself. And in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the trumpet Jesus will return and he will raise you from the dead. He will wipe every tear from your eye. He will be your God and you will be his people. There will be no more suffering, sin, illness, disease, or death. The old will have passed away and the new will have come. God has joined you in the flesh, so that you may join him in your flesh, in eternity. This is our hope, dear Christians. Our hope and answer to sin, suffering, and evil is nothing less than Jesus Christ and him crucified, risen, and reigning to all eternity! This is most certainly true.
Rev. Adam Filipek