Over the past thirteen years, I have learned that some things will always remain a constant fact of life: taxes, the overwhelming loudness of toxic members of my fandoms, and the fact that the most overwhelmingly popular way for people to end up on this site via a search engine is by searching for “god never gives us more than we can handle” or “god doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
I can’t imagine that there aren’t many websites which address that phrase better than I ever could, but if you’ve reached this point, it’s because according to your search results and your choices made regarding them, there aren’t. I’m glad to have you here!
But… There is no such Bible verse! Disappointed?
I hope not.
But if you are? Look, I get it. You hear the phrase a lot, such as when things are getting rough in life. “Cheer up, sister. God isn’t going to give you more than you can handle.” It’s repeated so often by so many people that it not only rings true in the ears of Christians but seems like it could easily be a paraphrased Bible verse.
On the contrary, the phrase has become a platitude, a Christian meme which lacks in both substance and originality.
And on top of that, it doesn’t reflect what the Bible teaches about Christian living.
The Book of Acts tells of Stephen, “full of grace and power,” who “did great wonders and signs among the people.”1 Despite being so highly regarded by God, he was stoned to death for his trouble.2 I really like what Stephen did as he was being killed — he cried out to God, pleading with him to not hold the act against his attackers. Flash forward 2,000 years later, and we find certain stripes of Christian justifying, if not celebrating, the punishment of undocumented immigrants because to them, the misdemeanor of illegally entering the United States is more important than anything else. Where is the grace of Stephen?
Anyway, I digress. Stephen, a man approved of God, was given more than he could handle, literally. The man died because he was a faithful servant of God. He didn’t live his life according to empty platitudes, but according to a message which was vile to his hearers.
Just prior to his death, Stephen looked and saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand.
This may sound crass, but not only will God not give you more than you can handle, he’s going to sit by and watch as you are broken by what you are given.
From an outside perspective, that is monstrous. I can’t fathom having the ability to help someone who is most assuredly going to die but choosing instead to stand idly by as the last breath leaves their lungs.
However, from a Christian — or more specifically, a biblical — perspective, the situation fits with Jesus’ call for those who would follow him to deny themselves, taking up their own cross.3 The cross isn’t a minor inconvenience or a tchotchke to be displayed on a shelf, wall, or necklace; no, the cross is a tool of death. Brutal. Merciless.
Wondering what the Bible says about not being given more than you could handle is a distraction from everything Jesus taught. Nowhere are his followers told to give incrementally until that point that you think enough’s enough and then you can stop. Nowhere in the New Testament is it imagined that a Christian would love a cushy middle class life in suburbia, full of sweet tea, weed, and air conditioning with no sign of spiritual acts, let alone spiritual suffering.
If your biggest worries are how you’re going to pay the bills, you have forgotten what Jesus told you about not worrying about your clothes, your food, your basic needs — that if you focus instead on seeking the kingdom of God, he would provide for your needs.4
That seems to be the reward for living a life which is going to drive those around you away, just as it did Stephen. Fortunately, most people today aren’t likely to martyr you — let’s take a moment to be grateful that despite religion surviving into the twenty-first century, it has been tempered by humanism.
If you’re really curious what happens when God gives you too much, I recommend reading John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or even dc Talk’s modern follow-up Jesus Freaks. Understand that if you’re not living your life in such a way that it is in constant threat of being killed, if the worst thing you have to put up with is an atheist from work who posts pro-choice and content friendly toward “the gays” on their Facebook page, please, please recognize that you are living Christianity on easy mode.
It isn’t a stretch to say that God wants you to take upon yourself more than you can handle — sacrificing more so that others don’t go without, giving up friends and family for the sake of God’s kingdom, etc. Can you really be said to be “taking up your cross” otherwise?
If you are a Christian, you are emphatically called to live a life of suffering; then and only then could it ever be said of you in any meaningful way that your life, like Stephen’s, is “full of grace and power.”
However, if you instead choose a life with the freedom to pursue your own interests — such as anime, video games, sex, rock and roll, nature conservancy, politics, macro insect photography, or any other pastime which doesn’t fit the Bible’s ascetic vision of Christian living — then I encourage you to try humanism, wherein you retain the freedom to do good, but you no longer have the pressure to do so under any sort of eternal threat. After all, if you’re not going to do the Christian thing whole hog, it is better that you just not do it at all!5
Wait, Maybe You Really Just Wanted a Bible Verse…
Okay, maybe you really just wanted the closest possible verse to “God will never give you more than you can handle” and all this commentary has just been a waste of time.
You’re looking for 1 Corinthians 10:13, and here it is from a variety of Bible versions as a reward for sticking around this long!
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.New King James Version
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.King James Version
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.New American Standard Bible
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.New International Version
No temptation has taken you but such as is according to man’s nature; and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able to bear, but will with the temptation make the issue also, so that ye should be able to bear it.Darby’s Translation
No temptation hath taken you–except human; and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what ye are able, but He will make, with the temptation, also the outlet, for your being able to bear it.Young’s Literal Translation
No temptation has taken you except that which is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow that you be tempted beyond what you are able, but will, with the temptation, also make the way out, that you may be able to endure it.Recovery Version
What Do You Think?
You most likely ended up here because of something you searched for; did this satisfy your curiosity? Do you still believe that God will protect you from too great a burden? Share your thoughts and experiences below, and as always, don’t forget to like and share this post to broaden the conversation!
Featured image: The Good Shepherd by Josef Untersberger.
This post was originally published on 2006-09-06. It has been updated for republication. Comments below may reflect the original version of this content.