This phrase has been both puzzling and troubling to me over the years, specifically when I had cancer and during times when I experienced spiritual warfare personally and in our ministry.
So, I went digging for answers.
There is no scripture that tells us that God won’t give us more than we can bear or that tells us that God won’t allow more than we can bear.
What you WILL find is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states:
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. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)
This verse is referring to TEMPTATION. God does allow us to be tempted to sin, but He NEVER sets us up to fail. He will not allow circumstances so that the ONLY option we have is to sin. God is loving and ALWAYS gives us an alternative to sin.
We misquote this verse and use it to apply to hardships, sickness, and all sorts of troubles…which seems harmless enough.
I find comfort in telling you “God won’t give you more than you can bear.” It helps me reassure myself that you are okay and not in need of my help.
It’s not as comforting when you are on the receiving end of this platitude. In fact, it has caused me a great deal of grief. I remember thinking on more than one occasion, “Well, what is wrong with me then? I am fairly certain that this is more than I can bear!”
The thought hits me….
If God did not give us more than we could bear, what need would we have for Him?
If I could take care of everything all on my own, why would I need a relationship with Christ?
It seems that the opposite is more likely true. God WILL allow more than we can bear so that we will turn to Him. Knowing the character of God, it seems more logical that He would allow all manner of unbearable pain and suffering so that we would seek refuge, safety and comfort in Him. It is logical that God WILL allow more than we can bear so that He can teach us to depend on Him and show us how powerful He is.
Still, logic is only logic if not backed by scripture. When we look to His Word, it doesn’t take long to see that God does indeed allow His children to be put in positions where they NEED Him, because they cannot continue without Him. The stories of David and Goliath and Daniel and the lions’ den come to mind. Scripture even tells us that we will have trouble:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)
Having cancer once was more than I could bear.
Having cancer a second time was the darkest time of my life.
God allowed it. He allowed the sickness and the helplessness and the fear: only because it made me more reliant and dependent on Him. As a result, I learned to trust Him even more than before.
I won’t be telling folks, “Well, you know God won’t give you more than you can handle” anymore.
Instead, I will be telling them something more like this…..
Scripture says that in this world we WILL have trouble. Those troubles can bring us closer to Christ. Those troubles that are too much to bear on our own should send us running to the arms of Jesus for peace, comfort, safety and rest. When I have experienced things that I absolutely could not bear on my own, I learned to lean on Christ, to trust my Heavenly Father, and to rest in the comfort of knowing that God can handle the things that I can’t.