Did God really say He would never give us more than we can bear?

I walked into the hospital room of a woman who attended our church knowing that sorrow would be filling that room. The woman was suffering from Leukemia and enduring the terrible treatments in hopes of arresting her illness. As if that weren’t enough, news had just reached her that one of her daughters had been found dead. We didn’t even have the benefit of knowing how she died. It was these circumstances that brought me to her bedside.

As I reached for her hand I saw the look of pain written across her face. She said through her tears, “Paul, I know the Bible says God will never give us more than we can bear, but this is about all I can handle.”

This lovely saint had been lead to believe that God’s Word promises us that He will never give us more than we can handle. She was not alone in her belief. I would guess the majority of Christians today would agree with that statement, believing it to be found in the Scriptures. Even a popular Christian song used this thought in its refrain: “He will never give us more than we can bear…” So hearing it often quoted and even sung in popular songs, we just assume it’s a biblical truth.

The fact is, no where in the Bible is there a promise from God that He will not give us more than we can bear.

So, what does the Bible say on the subject? Where did we get the idea in the first place?—and is there any comfort for us in the face of trials?

Checking with the Word

Very few people have been through more difficulty than the Apostle Paul. His own list of trials include “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” (2 Corinthians 11: 24-27 NIV)

Yikes! What a list! Church history tells us that Paul eventually gave his life for the Gospel, and was beheaded in Rome. Suffice it to say, Paul often found himself in situations that most of us never will. Did he ever feel it was more than he could bear? Let’s hear his own answer: “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.” (2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV)

In this passage Paul explains that the trials he and his companions experienced were ...far beyond [their] ability to endure…” In fact, they were so severe he tells us they despaired even of life. That means death would have actually brought a welcome relief.

So if God really promised He would never give us more than we can endure, Paul had something to complain about because, he wrote his trials in Asia were “...far beyond [his] ability to endure.”

So, where did Christians get this idea in the first place? It’s hard to say, but there’s a verse in 1 Corinthians that sounds an awful lot like it, but with an important difference. It goes like this:

“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.”
(1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)

The wording is similar, but by paying close attention we see in this verse God promises that we will not be tempted beyond what we can bear. That means when a temptation comes into your life you will never be able to say, “There was nothing I could do about it—I couldn’t help myself from giving into temptation.” 

But temptation and trials are two very different things. God does, indeed, promise to never allow more temptation to come into your life than you can bear, but not trials. As we’ve already seen, Paul experienced trials far beyond his ability to endure.

So, Where’s the Comfort?

Up to this point it has been my goal to simply see the Word of God represented truthfully. If Christians are holding on to promises that aren’t in the Bible, it can appear to them as if God really doesn’t keep His promises. Like the beautiful saint I described earlier, there was a feeling in her heart as if perhaps God had faltered on His promise to never bring more difficulty into her life than she could bear.

But God is always faithful, and although He may, at times, allow situations and circumstances to overwhelm us, He is always there to bring comfort and strength. As we go back to Paul’s remarks about the trials that were far beyond his ability to endure, we find an interesting comment:

“…[these trials] happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9b-10 NIV)

What a wonderful verse! Paul shares that the terrible trials they endured were a reminder that he is never to rely on himself or his own strength—but rather on God’s. That’s why he encourages the Ephesians to “...be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (6:10 NIV)

So, while God may allow circumstances to come our way that are beyond our own ability to endure, we can be sure they are not beyond God’s! And He is faithful and will always give us the strength and power to overcome. (See 2 Thessalonians 3:3)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28 NIV)

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