...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Saturday, April 18, 2009

God Won't Give You Anything You Can't Handle- Really?

How the heck did this little ditty come to be as familiar as the Apostles Creed in popular American Christian belief?! I'm not even sure it's something that Ben Franklin would say, even though most people think the happy Deist's "God helps those who help themselves" is somewhere in the Bible, maybe Proverbs 3 or 4.

No, the unfortunate phrase is a very loose paraphrase of I Corinthians 10:13 which states that when we are tempted, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure, but with the temptation will provide a way out (exodus). These words follow Paul's illustration of the Israelites' idolatry in the wilderness as an example not to follow.

Some conclude, as the saying suggests, that God therefore gives us trials and temptations and that these cover anything and everything- events like hurricanes and earthquakes. To me it's clear that it's in the temptation that God provides a way out. Temptation is not from God- it's humanity's problem. "God tempts no one," James wrote. So I have a basic disagreement that God supposedly "gives us" really bad stuff-- just enough so that we bend but don't break!

Besides theological concerns, I also have practical, pastoral concerns with this line of belief. What about the stuff God "gives us" that we cannot handle? We- all of us- are so easily broken and overwhelmed. "Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is a lie. Instead, as traumas are experienced throughout life, we may well become more, not less, fragile. With PTSD and other anxiety disorders, there is and can be recovery and healing- physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

But please don't discount or deny the real human-God work required in that recovery by using this line on others. If it works for you, well then, it's for you. And neither Ben Franklin nor St. Paul said it.

15 comments:

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful reply to a common and frustrating belief.

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  2. Our pastor just preached on this today at church! It was really thought provoking- as so many churches seem to preach that God 'won't give us anything we can't handle' when 1 Cor 10:13 talks about temptation...

    My husband and I will be trying to share this with our home group on Tuesday night. I'd appreciate any other verses you have to help us share this insight with them!

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  3. The problem is you can pick out other Bible passages that seem to validate the view that God gives us troubles in order to test us. For example, the book of Job is often read with this way. But Job himself argues against this view many times when it's spouted by his "friends."

    There's a N.T. reference in Hebrews 12 to God's discipline, but I think that chapter is about keeping covenant as God's own people. Christians, in order to be faithful, can't always just take the path of least resistance and comfort. In N.T. times, practicing the faith brought on increased difficulty, but that doesn't mean God was on the same side as the Empire causing the persecution- far from it.

    In John 15, Jesus talks about pruning, but that is about spiritual pruning and growth and maturity- not necessarily about God giving us more or less than we can handle.

    For me, the most convincing argument against this view about God giving us troubles is Revelation. In it, Christians are called to high standard of witness (even martyrdom) in spite of the fact that they are opposed by beast-like evil (The Empire of Rome). God doesn't doll out troubles to test, but the persecution itself is a test of faith.

    It's just how you choose to see it. Some people take comfort in the belief that God is in control- even of the bad stuff that happens. I take comfort in the incarnation, that, in Jesus, God gets in the muck with us and doesn't stand apart from us and dish out misery to test us.

    The last option is for me, much more life-giving. But it's a choice that Christians on various sides differ on because it has more to do with how you see God.

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  4. I just googled this exact phrase! I was wondering, 'Is this actually in the Bible?'

    After reading your reflection i think that there are many times God does give us things we on our own cannot handle. If we could handle everything on our own then we would have no need for God.

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  5. It sounds very manipulative that God would give us trauma, or let it happen, just so we could learn to trust God.

    I know that getting closer with God happens sometimes, but other times people just get overwhelmed or worse, turn away from God.

    Research on PTSD is showing that repeated traumas make us psychologically weaker, more fragile, not stronger.

    Trusting God doesn't require me to believe that God is sending or giving me problems just to test me. That belief is optional, and, for me, more harming than healing.

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  6. It's refreshing to hear the Truth !!
    I am amazed at how people come to a point of belief that 'God will not give me anything I cannot handle'. What did Paul mean then when he said "...above measure" or "I despaired of life".
    He gives us MORE than we can handle to take us beyond ourselves. It's a lifelong process and cannot be done with limits ('what we can handle').

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  7. I think that's what Paul means in Philippians 4:13:
    "Christ gives me the strength to face anything."
    CEV

    However, I believe that Philippians 4:13 is not even close to saying that God dishes trouble out to us for any reason- good, bad or indifferent.

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  8. We live in a fallen world. God has a permissive will on this earth, otherwise it wouldn't be creatively and wonderfully made. If it weren't for trials and temptations, there would be no need for a belief in God and therefore we would be totally out of luck. Remember, we're not in the garden of Eden anymore.

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  9. God is not a god of PREVENTION...He is THE GOD of INTERVENTION. This proves his ability, his greatness...because most of us humans have to "See it" to believe it. Sure he could fix things before we ever knew they were wrong but then would he truly get the glory? I do believe that God sometimes will stand back and let us be tried (Job for example) BUT when we call on his name he is right there with his rescue. God will take what the devil meant for evil and make it good....just ask.

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  10. Thanks for your comments.

    The issue, at least for me, is not the value of suffering; after all, the Old Testament has volumes on the matter.

    Rather, I'm concerned why Christians find it necessary to make God the One doling out just enough trouble to bend but not break us. To that little ditty that so often rolls off our lips without a thought, I say, "not true."

    This is neither helpful for others nor faithful to the God who so loves the world.

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  11. People get this confused your flesh can not handle everything that god will give you.. that's why he gives you the holy spirit to live inside of you. The bible clearly states that god will make us suffer to bring us closer to him and for that be grateful. When our children are misbehaving what do we do? A slap on the wrist or behind, a timeout, grounding, take away of priveleges. What kind of father would he be if he only gave us good things all the time whether we sinned or not. We would no doubt be spoiled and worthy of another flood. He will make you suffer UNTIL you break just to rebuild you as new. Not to be mean or cruel or evil but with the best of intentions the same way we would discipline our own children, we are his children, and everything he does is in love. Try not to love god thru your flesh but thru your spirit. Your flesh will despise suffering your spirit will be grateful because it knows that you are now closer to god than before. =)

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  12. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Alisa. It sounds like segmenting the flesh and spirit here works for you.

    I have known very spiritually alive and healthy people who are in very bad shape physically. Sometimes very physically healthy Christians are really sick or troubled in their spirit. So it is a point well-taken, though I don't think this is just a matter of denying all flesh and living only to the spirit, even if you can separate those two so easily.

    You are right that the Bible uses the metaphor of parenthood to talk about our being disciplined by trouble. One time Jesus uses it in regard to God answering prayer (Luke 11), and it seems he does so to say that there are limits to that metaphor, since human fathers, as evil as they are, at least know how to give to their children what they need.

    Yes God is similar in some ways to human parents, okay. In other ways, not. For example human parents are not totally unconditional in their love as God is. They can easily be manipulative or controlling. God gives us free will to choose.

    So, no, God is not the author of evil or chaos. God in Jesus Christ is not lurking behind to see if we will be good and ready to hurt us physically or spiritually if we are not.

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  13. "The bible clearly states that god will make us suffer to bring us closer to him and for that be grateful."

    Who wants to get closer to someone who makes me suffer? On the other hand, if it is necessary in order to witness to the love of God in Jesus, I will choose the kind of suffering that comes from others. (Romans 8)

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  14. It is so sad how people live in their own bubble of reality and choose to stay there instead of learning from others experiences. "He will make you suffer UNTIL you break just to rebuild you as new." Apparently Alisa has no knowledge of the true suffering people in this world endure. How about all the children who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests? The people who are tortured and killed. The little children who have body parts hacked off in the belief that it will bring good luck. The daily beatings by a spouse. Slavery. Sex trade. Rape.

    That is not my God. That is a sick creation concocted by a sick mind. Remember, just because something is written down in a book does not make it true. Why is it that people dismiss Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, and Mary Baker Eddy yet accept what unknown authors wrote 300 years AFTER the death of Christ when Constantine the Great decided to combine the traditions of many religions in order to create one for all.

    People, you need to educate yourself. You are living in ignorance of your own making so you can continue to believe what you feel comfortable with. It's hypocritical since you speak of suffering in order to grow and become closer to God.

    I challenge you to stop pulling God down to your level. It is disrespectful and extremely childish.

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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