Sunday, August 14, 2011

Guest Post: God will never give you anything more than you can handle

God will never give you anything more than you can handle. Really?

"God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). Over time that promise has become abbreviated to "God will never give you more than you can handle." Like many others, I've derived comfort from these words and offered them as comfort to others.

  So, when I was going into labor with my third son, and things started going very wrong, I was sure God would provide the way of escape. But He didn't. The baby was turned very wrong, and he was stuck, and literally breaking my back with each contraction. Now I had given birth to two very big boys already.  I knew a little bit about what it was like to push through the pain and get it done. This time the pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced...a genuine torture that had me screaming at the top of my lungs, clutching at nurses with wide eyed terror. Nothing they did could stop it or help it. The face of the horrified doctor said it all. As my blood pressure plummeted, and I turned cold,  he believed that I had ruptured internally. (He said later regretted allowing me to attempt a natural delivery after a previous C-section with my medical issues.)  I had cheerfully convinced him the week before that the Great Physician had everything well in hand and not to worry!   But there I was, in terrible condition, heart monitor fluctuating wildly, turning white.  Another wave of excruciating pain came and I came to life again with a scream, "Help meeeeeee!!!" . It went on and on...far beyond my ability to endure. I longed for death. The cry of my heart in the moment was, "My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Like most bumper-sticker theology, this promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 appeals to our concerns about ourselves and our well-being. If I take Paul's words and God's faithfulness seriously, I must also look beyond my self-centeredness to the pain and severe testing others endure. What of the hungry, the abused, the victims of war?  Just how much does God expect us them cheerfully "endure"  and believe that it's not too much for them? What about Paul's own words in his next letter to the believers in Corinth where he says, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, FAR BEYOND our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life."    What about Levi and I nearly dying through a torturous delivery? For days afterward I was numb with shock, not only dealing with a permanent back injury, but also with a brand new question mark on my own theology.

One needs to take a look at the verse that directly proceeds 1 Corinthians 10:13 to fully understand what Paul is talking about.  10:12 is "Therefore, let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."  Put that verse back-to-back with this one and it becomes evident that the underlying theme of verse 13 is NOT about facing hardships, trials, tragedies, and sufferings in life, but temptation -- namely, the allure to do wrong, to do evil, and how one can escape that allure (In fact, "temptation" is used in place of "testing" in most translations).    The key words in this verse are "he will also provide the way out".  Provide the way out of what? -- Temptation.  One is not provided the way out of a loved one's tragic death, our house burning to the ground, or back breaking labor.  These are examples of circumstances that God allows in our lives from time to time, but they are not temptations.  Look at Job and everything that happened to him -- and, by all accounts (Job 1:8), he always took the way out when tempted to do evil.

We say we want to be like Jesus, but we resist the very instruments God uses to fulfill that desire. Arthur Mathews, missionary to China held under arrest for ten years, put it this way, "We tend to look at the circumstances of life in terms of what they may do to our cherished hopes and convenience, and we shape our decisions and reactions accordingly. When a problem threatens, we rush to God, not to seek His perspective, but to ask Him to deflect the trouble. Our self-concern takes priority over whatever it is that God might be trying to do through that trouble... An escapist generation reads security, prosperity, and physical well-being as evidence of God's blessing. Thus, when He puts suffering and affliction into our hands, we misread His signals and misinterpret His intention. By convincing us that our suffering is undeserved or unnecessary the enemy of our souls succeeds in getting us to resent and resist the will and purpose of God. Jesus promised that we would have trials, and said that we must take up our cross and follow Him. It was a call to suffer because it is impossible to be holy apart from the redemptive, sanctifying fruit of suffering."

After surviving Levi's birth, my doctor said, "No more children".  As a medical professional he was convinced that I could not endure another event like that, and it was his sincere opinion that Ira and I should prevent any further conceptions. Friends and family agreed. We already had three sons, through some very dangerous deliveries. My low blood pressure problems, extreme reactions to anesthetics,  back injury,  C-section, infections,  and tendency to have 10 pound babies....weren't they all signs that God was saying "Enough"? Couldn't I use my brain and make the right decision for my own health as well as for my family?  The consensus of my advisers was, "You shouldn't have to suffer. There is a way of escape. You could have your tubes tied or he could get "fixed". It's the smart thing to do."

The picture below reflects the months of prayer that followed, I had a choice to make between conflicting statements in my heart. One would say, "I just can't take it anymore. I am afraid. I really need to limit my family size," and the other would say, "Not my will but Yours be done.  Children are a blessing and a reward from the Lord. I trust in the One who is faithful. Thou He slay me, yet I will praise Him." 

Have you ever felt a war like that going on for your soul?

Have you ever considered making your own "way of escape",  giving in to the bondage of making a decision based on fear?

That's why having Scripture tucked away in your heart is so important. The TRUTH is a powerful thing.  I took a leap of faith, with my life in my hands, and gave up birth control for good. My fourth son, Waylon, was delivered to me nine months later. I also lost three more children to miscarriage and felt the sting of worldly wise women who said, "I told you so" as they shook their heads.  But, through it all, the peace of God grew like a garden, beyond any storm.   Nellie, my only daughter, will tell you that she is also the glorious result of the truth winning out over lies, and faith triumphing over fear.  It is not possible to avoid suffering, but it is possible to experience the grace and peace of God in any and all circumstances of life.

Happy 13th Birthday, Levi

Nellie, here after Levi's birth experience 


  1. 'bumper sticker theology' so often prevents authentic spiritual connection... but the truth truly does set us free! thank you for sharing!

  2. Wow, this is a beautiful post. After having 2 miscarriages only 4 months apart, I became so sick of the phrase "God won't give you more than you can handle." I was devastated and it seemed that my whole world was falling apart. Paul's words in 2 Cor ("We were under great pressure, FAR BEYOND our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.") that you quoted here were so critical in my healing. Understanding that my grieving was normal and that suffering can be beyond what we can endure.... and that we need to rely on Christ to overcome.

    Thanks for so eloquently writing what I had been thinking! I'm so glad I read this today! God Bless!