“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
How many times have you heard this? It gets used a lot.
Many people use this line to try to encourage a friend or family member whenever times are tough. And while it’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to build up and encourage people who are experiencing trials and adversity, we need to make sure that what we encourage them with is the truth.
While this phrase sounds very positive and affirming, you will not find “God won’t give you more than you can handle” anywhere within the pages of the Bible. Like many other platitudes, it simply doesn’t exist.
What you will find is the verse that it appears to be a misquotation of, 1 Cor 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (emphasis mine)
Does God Tempt Us to Sin?
Before we go further, let’s address an important question: does God tempt people to sin? The Bible’s answer is no. God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13). It doesn’t work that way. God isn’t looking for ways to make us fail—we can do that well enough on our own.
So He doesn’t tempt us—but we still sin. Couldn’t He stop that? While that’s a good question, we have to remember that God has a purpose for our temptations. He allows us to be tempted so that we will grow in holiness.
That’s what helps us make sense of what Paul wrote about being tempted beyond our ability in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
There’s Always a Way Out of Sin
When Paul wrote that God will not tempt us beyond our ability, he meant that we are never in a situation where have no other choice but to sin. In a situation where telling the truth will damage your reputation, for example, it’s much easier to give in to the temptation to protect how people see you and lie, rather than do the right thing, which is tell the truth. That’s why there’s no such thing as a “white lie”—one that you tell to protect the feelings of someone else. We never lie to make someone else feel better, only to avoid discomfort ourselves. It’s just easier to lie and not deal with the consequences of telling the truth.
But, easy rarely equals right. We always have the option of doing the right thing, that which is honoring to God, but it will often cost us—whether that cost is reputation, position, relationship, or money, there will be a cost. But it’s always worth it to do the right thing.
When God Gives Us More Than We Can Handle
So does God give us more than we can handle? Yep. And for proof of this, we only have to look at the Bible itself. For example, Jeremiah was a prophet prior to the Babylonian captivity. He warned the people to repent, but they didn’t listen. Instead, they beat him. They plotted against him. Even his own family rejected him. Emotionally, that was far more than he could handle (see Lamentations).
Paul himself is also an example of this. He shared in his own experience in 2 Corinthians 11:21–30, which included:
- “Countless” beatings
- Multiple shipwrecks
- Dangers in every environment and from all people
- Hunger and thirst
- Sleepless nights
He was even left for dead!
But Paul didn’t write these to boast in his suffering. He did it so that we might know that God will always give us more than we can handle. He boasted “of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30) because those things show his (and our) dependency on the power and mercy of God.
Growing in Dependency
Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote:
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 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 (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).
Basically, he told the church, “We were so afflicted that we thought we were going to die! We were burdened beyond our ability. We could not handle it! But God gave us this adversity and burden so that we would rely on Him who can!”
We are not self-sufficient. We cannot just hunker down and power through every situation. And we cannot white-knuckle our way to holiness. We need God.
So maybe we need to stop seeing the trials and adversity in our lives as a burden, as an indication that God doesn’t love us. Maybe we need to start seeing them as proof that God indeed loves us very much—so much so that He will not let us try to rely on our own strength, but continue to show us that we must rely on Him to endure suffering and persevere until the end.