More Than We Can Handle

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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

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4 thoughts on “More Than We Can Handle

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for sharing this piece. My thinking of late on your subject matter has drifted more along the lines of God allowing us “more than we can handle” (whatever that may be in an particular person’s life at the time) so that we rely on Him and not ourselves. In your second-to-last sentence you note that Jesus “will shoulder the burden right along with us.” If I can handle any and everything God lets come in my direction I won’t have much of a need for God and I can just go my merry way serving all the other gods of my life.
    But, if in adversity, I find that it is God who is carrying me, not shouldering the burden with me, but for me, then perhaps I will have a more profound understanding of His love, of His provision, of His majesty, etc. And perhaps the end result of that will be that I give Him the glory that only He merits.
    Brad

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    • Brad, thank you for your comment. There have definitely been times in my life where I can now see how God carried me through when I could never have made it on my own. I’m not sure suffering always leads me to realize my need for God in the moment, but I quite often see it very clearly in the rearview mirror. Perhaps those experiences will help me see God more in the midst of future trials.

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  2. I have always hated that statement. I’m not in favor of most of the platitudes people use to try and comfort others. We need more people like Job’s friends were for the first 7 days with him…. they said nothing. Instead we are like Job’s friends on day 8, who do all they can to solve the mystery as to why things happened and what we should do about it.
    Perhaps another scripture for that sentiment is “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And if so, then we in Christ God could not give us more than we can handle. But if not in Christ, we are certainly facing more than we can handle.
    One question you did not address is, was Jesus going to the cross more than he could bear? After all, he cries out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Perhaps our overall understanding of suffering and eternal significance or rewards are too skewed by modern comforts that anything unpleasant is viewed as more than we should face. After all, find someone who does not own a TV and see what people say about them or how they view them.
    Perhaps, not withstanding the real trials that people truly face with health and family issues, we have become soft to the hardships of living in a cursed world and see suffering as the exception, instead or realizing that in all of history we are more blessed than any generation of nobility and privileged people that has preceded us.
    We also miss that Paul talks about temporary suffering in light of eternity. We see current suffering in terms of possible comfort. I know I turned the direction on your thought, but I think we often think to acutely about issues and miss that we for all we are are creations of a glorious God. And if all we have to hold to is that we are created in his image, as we are, then we to should hold the that reflection of his glory in us and know that no other part of creation can hold a candle to that. And that even in the midst of the greatest suffering we could imagine or bear, that image we bear of God’s glory is never diminished.
    So, perhaps the questions of what we can bear, or whether God in Christ bears it for us, is not the right question. Perhaps, we are just bad at asking the right questions. We want to ask why and never finding satisfaction in the answers and instead ask where. Where is God going to use this to bless others or bring him glory. After all, in Christs death we have all been blessed and God receives glory. Yet, who can fathom the depths of suffering for a perfect man to carry the sin of the whole world?

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    • Leighton, thanks for your comment. I agree with what you said about Job’s friends. We need to be better at simply sitting with people.
      Now, I’m not sure comparing Jesus’ suffering to ours is exactly fair, but it certainly is an interesting question to ponder.

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