Comedian Tig Notaro spoke candidly about her cancer, her mother’s death, her pneumonia, and her breakup in a recent stand-up routine. Having faced all of these life altering events in the short span of a few months, she addressed the cliché that God won't give you more than you can handle:
What’s nice about all of this is that you can always rest assured that God never gives you more than you can handle.
When you’ve had it, God goes, “All right, that’s it.”
I just keep picturing God going, “You know what…? I think she can take a little more.”
And then the angels are standing back, going, “God, what are you doing? You’re out of your mind!”
And God was like, “No, no, no, I really think she can handle this.”
“Why, God? Like, why? Why?”
“I don’t know, I just, you know, trust me on this. She can handle this.”
God is insane, if there at all.
The idea that God doesn't give us more than we can handle is thought by many to be a quote taken directly from the Bible. Actually, the statement isn't found in Scripture at all; however, the basis for it comes from 1 Corinthians 10:32, which reads, "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."
Although the word “temptation,” or peirasmos in Greek, can refer to suffering or trial, that's not the best way to understand it in this passage. Here, the context makes it clear that the Apostle Paul is concerned about sins that might lure us away from God. The promise is that in every such temptation, God will always provide "a way out," i.e. a path for obedience. In other words, we need never fear being trapped by sin. The choice to obey God will never be withheld from us. Ever!
Besides the context, there's another reason we shouldn't take 1 Corinthians 10:13 to mean that God will never give us more than we can handle. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 the Apostle Paul confesses that God indeed gave him more than he could handle. In this passage, Paul wrote that he and his companions were “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” Clearly, God brought the Apostle and his companions to an end of themselves. The reason for this is explained as Paul went on to write, “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.”
God did give Paul more than he could handle, so that the Apostle might learn to trust in Him. To suggest that God never gives us more than we can handle is to negate the very circumstance the Bible says is necessary for the believer to experience grace.
As positive as the idea that God never gives us more than we can handle might sound, that's how negative it becomes when it is proven wrong. What do those who believe this lie do when God does give them more than they can handle? How do they turn to trust God more when their expectations of God have just been so profoundly disappointed? Rather than experience grace, they become confused and discouraged. They likely think to themselves,"God is insane, if there at all."
That's the danger presented by false hope.
If it's really our goal to fortify our fellow believers for the inevitable trials that will come to them, rather than point them to 1 Corinthians 10:13, we should point them to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in 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.
Rather than offer the false hope that God won’t give us more than we can handle, offer the biblical certainty that God will give us all the grace we need in every trial we face.
God intentionally gives us more than we can handle to teach us our own limits, to teach us to trust in Him, and so that we might experience grace. Because God gave Paul more than he could handle, the Apostle came to an end of himself and confessed, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). As long as we are “handling life,” we think that we have all we need. Unless we come to an end of our own resources, we will fail to discover the sufficiency of God’s grace.