I hear people who are suffering immensely say, “I know that God will not give me more than I can handle.” This is usually followed by a “but,” with an explanation of why they feel that God is giving them a whole lot to deal with and they feel overwhelmed. And so I have begun to ask, “Where did this idea come from?” Yes, there is a verse in the bible that says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” But does that verse really mean that God will keep us from immense amounts of suffering?
This week I’ve seen multiple families encounter tragedies and setbacks that have been devastating. I’ve sat in hospital rooms and prayed for healing. I’ve given hugs to individuals who were in tears. I’ve felt their sorrow. I’ve seen it on their faces, heard it in their voices. And all I could think was, “Lord, why have you forsaken them?” It seemed to me that God was allowing them to face far more than they could handle. I received an e-mail from someone whose family was facing another tragedy in a long line of tragedies. And this individual believed that God would not give their family more than they could handle, but was worried that perhaps they were getting very close to that breaking point. How much suffering is too much? And what do we do when we feel like we can’t handle it? Is God like that parent who says to their injured child, “Walk it off?”
I recently saw the Son of God movie in the theater and I really appreciated the portrayal of the character of Judas Iscariot. Yes, he betrayed Jesus, but he is often portrayed as an evil, cold-hearted villain. In the Son of God movie, Judas appears far more human. He offers help to the high priest because he is concerned about how the situation is going and the high priest offers him money for information. Then, when things begin to escalate and the high priest believes Jesus must be killed, he brings Judas in and tells him to lead the high priests’ men to Jesus. Judas does so, but when he later discovers that Jesus has been sentenced to death, he is distraught…so much so that he hangs himself to rid himself of the guilt he feels.
Now, in the Reformed tradition, we believe in a Sovereign God, which means that nothing happens outside of God’s will. God knew that Judas would betray Jesus. He knew that Judas would be guilt-ridden beyond what he could handle. Yet God allowed him to face it anyway. So, what does that tell us about God? And how does that apply to our own feelings of guilt? Or to our feelings of sorrow and shame? Will God truly not give us more than we can handle?
My honest belief is that we are given more than we can handle all the time. I don’t know that God directly “gives” us those things, but God is certainly aware of them and allows them to happen. That said, I also honestly believe that God walks with us as we face those trials. God holds us up when the pain is too much to bear. God carries us when we can no longer walk. And God takes the brunt of the pain and heartache onto himself in order to spare us the direct impact. And even then, sometimes it is too much for us to bear.
My heart breaks today for all those who are suffering beyond what they feel capable of handling. Know that you are in my prayers. And though it may feel like God has forsaken you, know that God is there. God is holding all your broken pieces together. Even though the blows are shockingly painful, know that God is feeling that pain right along with you. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus knows suffering as well as anyone. I’m reminded of the hymn “No, Not One.” It says, “Jesus knows all about our struggles. He will guide till the day is done. There’s not a friend like the lowly Jesus. No, not one. No, not one.” When we face struggles beyond what we can handle, we have a friend in Jesus who can relate and who will shoulder the burden right along with us. THAT is the good news.
1. 1 Corinthians 10:13, NRSV
2. Hebrews 4:15, NRSV