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God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

god wont give you more than you can handle

This post is written from an Evangelical perspective.

If you grew up in the Evangelical church, you’ve likely heard quite a few sermons on texts such as:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.  James 1:2-4

Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. James 1:12

Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: I Peter 1:6,7

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 1 Peter 4:12,13

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 2:3

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. Matthew 10:22

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. James 5:11

…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content Philippians 4:11

These verses, and others, are used to teach that no matter what happens to Christians they must endure and stay faithful. God sends trials, temptations, and adversity to punish Christians for sin, teach them a lesson, or increase their faith. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:5,6:

My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth…

No matter what happens in the lives of Christians, God loves them, has a plan for their life, and promises to never leave or forsake them. No matter how severe the trial, God will give them strength, promising to never give them more than they can bear.

If a person fails to endure, fails to bear the burden God has given them, then it is always their fault. They lack faith or are spiritually weak. Perhaps there is some secret sin in their life that is causing them to fail. Repent, trust God, and all will be well.

Couple this belief with the notion that Christians must patiently wait on God to do his perfect work in their lives, is it any surprise that many of them go through life facing onslaught after onslaught of pain, suffering, sickness, and loss. Hold on, Christian pastors tell their flock. Jesus is perfecting your lives. Don’t quit now. It is darkest just before the dawn. On and on the exhortations go,  encouraging Christians to passively and piously endure whatever comes their way. (Please see Does Evangelicalism Encourage Weakness and Passivity?)

Over the years, I heard a few preachers say that the Christian church could use some persecution; that persecution makes Christians stronger. According to an article I read years ago in Christianity Today (no source but my memory), persecution has, in some instances, totally wiped out Christianity in some places in the world. Instead of passively enduring persecution, perhaps it would have been better for Christians to live to fight another day. The reason they don’t is that they have been taught that not passively enduring persecution means they aren’t true Christians. Jesus endured pain, suffering, and death on the cross, and the least that Christians can do for him is be willing to die for their faith. Jesus stood meekly before his accusers, allowing himself to be beaten and spat upon. Christians should be willing to do the same.

Most Christian sects believe God is sovereign. This means God is in control of everything. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian agree that God has a purpose and plan for everyone, that he is the first cause of everything. Since God is running the show, Christians must play the part of suffering saints. No matter what comes their way, Christians, because of what Jesus did for them, must hold on and endure. I told the congregations I pastored, if you feel like you are at the end of the rope, tie a knot and hold on.

But what happens when you don’t have the strength to tie the knot?  What happens when you free fall and hit the ground with a splat? Is God to blame? Of course not. God is never to blame for anything bad happening in the lives of Christians. Only in Evangelicalism is bad renamed good. Let a woman miscarry, it’s for her good. Let a couple’s child die, it’s for their good. Let a tornado destroy a church, it’s for their good. Let a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami maim and kill thousands of people, including Christians, it’s for their good. I suppose there will be a preacher somewhere that says, after an asteroid hit kills a billion people, that God meant it for good. Just remember, God is good all the time. All the time God is good. Praise the Lord, where are the body bags?

Evangelicals convince themselves that no matter the circumstance, God is always with them. He promised to never leave or forsake them, and he is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. They pray, pray, and pray, and God answers not, yet they still believe. Why? Because they have been taught that silence from God can be a means of testing and strengthening one’s faith. Again, God is ALWAYS exonerated.

Rarely do Christians think through the belief that God is sovereign, yet not responsible for the bad things that happen. If God is in control of everything, how is it possible for him to not be culpable for the bad things that happen? Using Evangelical voodoo to make bad appear good doesn’t change the fact that bad things happen. No amount of Good Gawd Whitewash® can cover the fact that there are bad things that happen that have no redemptive value. Christian children starving to death in Africa has no redemptive value. Neither does a child dying of cancer or a Christian family being smashed by a falling concrete barrier. Pray tell, what is redemptive about a plane crash that kills everyone on board? Everywhere I look I see needless suffering and death, yet according to Evangelicals, God means the suffering and death for good. Since he can’t do anything other than good, and he is the sovereign Lord of all, everything that happens is good.  In any other setting, this kind of thinking would be considered lunacy.

One of the reasons my wife, Polly, and I deconverted was because we came to the conclusion that, out of the thousands and thousands of prayers we uttered, God never answered one of them. Yes, some of our prayers were answered, but we traced the answers back to human instrumentality. Out of all the prayers we prayed morning, noon, and night, those that had no human explanation could be counted on two or three fingers. Is this the best God can do? For some Christians, this is enough. They are the ones that praise God when a plane loaded with a hundred people crashes and there’s only one survivor. Isn’t God awesome? One person survived, praise Jesus! If a psychopath went to a shopping mall and killed ninety-nine people, yet saved a little baby, would anyone be praising the psychopath’s name? Of course not.

The beliefs taught from the verses I mentioned above often keep Christians from asking for help or expressing normal human emotion. I spent twenty-five years in the ministry, passively enduring everything “God” sent my way. For many years, we lived in abject poverty. Why? Because I believed God had called me to pastor full-time and operate a Christian school. I worked day and night, burning the candle at both ends, ultimately ruining my health. But even then, I told myself, better to burn out for God than rust out. Since the Apostle Paul spoke of early Christians enduring horrific trials and extreme poverty, I thought God was calling me to do the same. (Romans 8:31-39) If God wanted me to stuff a family of eight in a dilapidated 12×60 trailer, so be it. If God wanted me to drive $200 cars, my children to wear clothing from Goodwill or Odd Lots, and our family to do without the basic necessities of life, who was I to object? Look at all Jesus did for me. Look at how the early church suffered. Surely, I should be just as willing to forsake and endure all for Jesus.

Instead of suffering for Jesus, I should have told him thanks, but no thanks. I should have thought, I have a wife and six children to care for. I have the future to consider. Some day I will be retirement age and I need to start preparing for that now. Polly and the children deserve a better life. All of these things should have been at the forefront of my thinking, but they weren’t. Jesus and the church came first. I passively and resolutely followed God’s will for my life. Everything that happened was because God wanted it that way. Remember, God is good all the time. All the time God is good.

If atheism and humanism have taught me anything, they have taught me that I am responsible for what happens in my life. Most of the time, anyway. Things can and do happen that are beyond my control, but most of the time I am in control of my destiny. While I can’t undo the health problems I have, I can make the most of what life I do have. Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed and the chronic, unrelenting pain and suffering are winning, loving and kind people have extended a hand and said, let me lend you a hand. Since there is no help coming from God, each of us does what we can to deal with the bad things that come our way. And they will come. Live long enough and you’ll likely face severe trial and adversity. Life can be cruel and heartless. All we can do is hold on and hope tomorrow will be a better day. Most often it is, but not always. No matter how good a person we are, sometimes bad things happen to us. Live long enough and there will come a day when a doctor says, sorry, you have cancer/heart disease/kidney disease and it is going to kill you. It sucks, but even then, we have the power to face death with dignity.

How about you? How did the Bible verses mentioned above affect how you lived your life as a Christian? After you deconverted or left Evangelicalism, how did your approach to life change? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Note

Some Christians argue that the belief God won’t give you more than you can handle is a perversion of what the Bible teaches; that it actually says that God won’t give you more than HE can handle. However, this is nothing more than semantics. Since the Christian purportedly has God living inside of them and he is only a prayer away, God is always there. So, when the Christian is going through adversity that levels and incapacitates them, God is supposedly still right there with them. Otherwise, if a Christian is hit by a car, lying in the ditch with both legs and arms broken and their cellphone battery is dead, shouldn’t the Christian expect God to start handling things? Except, he never does. Let a Christian find themselves in the middle of the desert with no water and no hope of getting any, what will happen? This is definitely more than they can handle. Does God show up with a bottle of Evian? Of course not. They die a miserable, horrible death, waiting in vain for God to deliver them.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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16 Comments

  1. Avatar
    John

    I have been reading your blog for a few years now and I want to tell you how much it has helped me as I went through my de conversion process. Your blog, Neil Carter’s blog, Ehrman’s books, Ken Daniel’s book “Why I Believed”, the Reasonable Doubts podcast, ExChristian.net, etc, etc., continually hit every topic I have been dealing with.

    This topic of suffering came up last night in a discussion with my wife who is a Christian. We have recently had a string of unfortunate things happen in a very short amount of time to our family and she said we were under some kind of attack. I know she meant a spiritual attack. My first thought was “no it’s because you reached down to pick something up off the floor of your car in rush hour traffic.” But being married for over 20 years has taught me to say “actually I see it as we have had an incredible run of good luck over the last few years and it is all evening out statistically.”

    And my point was that we should own up to our mistakes and not shirk it off onto an invisible entity. I think my wife would honestly say I have become a better husband and father now that I don’t believe. Prayer accomplishes nothing other than making the believing person feel better about themselves or their situation. So I now take full responsibility for my own life and have learned to prioritize what really matters. As I told her in our very first conversation about me no longer believing, “Jesus use to be number one in my life and now you are.”

    Thanks again for you insight, Bruce. You are making a positive impact in many more lives than you know because you have in mine for several years and I am just now getting around to thanking you.

  2. Avatar
    Ami

    Thanks for this. I am sending the link to a friend. I would never, ever want to take her beliefs from her. But I would like for her to not feel as if she’s doing something wrong by being overwhelmed. I think Christians also believe that their trials and doubts should be private, and they deprive themselves of the support they could get from other Christians who have been there. That Pollyanna thing… my mom has it. Only hers is worse… not only does she go, “Oh look how I am blessed” she has the martyr thing… “I probably deserved this.”
    Gah.

  3. Avatar
    Ahab

    I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count from evangelical Christians. As you observed, it’s simply not true. Plenty of people have nervous breakdowns or become suicidal around the world each day because they cannot cope with what life has given them. If I believed in a god, I’d have to conclude that he frequently gives people more than they can handle.

    As you noted, Christians assume that someone who couldn’t cope didn’t trust God enough, or else God would have given them strength. Baloney. Things such as mental health issues, trauma, and stress can make it difficult to cope with difficulties, and people with these issues should not be blamed if they feel overwhelmed. It’s a pity more Christians don’t understand psychology or neurobiology — if they did, they’d understand that the human mind can only cope with so much.

  4. Avatar
    Maggie

    This teaching is truly dangerous in cases where there is mental, emotional or physical abuse. Its victim blaming taken to a whole new level! It encourages the one being abused to see their abuse as something to be endured since, after all, God is in control, even of their abuse. God won’t give them more than they can handle!!?? The very first incident of abuse was not only more than they can handle, it was more than they should have handled.

    I wonder just how many abuse victims, just as their lights were going out for the last time, questioned why their God allowed the abuse to cost them their life? And why didn’t their God answer their prayer for God to change their abuser?

  5. Avatar
    DarrenB

    Thanks Bruce. This post made me think a lot about the choices I’ve made in my life as well as what people of faith have told me over the same. Just one comment.

    One of the things, I’ve often wondered these last few years, was whether faith and Christianity offered me an easy out or excuse, so that I didn’t have to be responsible for my own actions. When I was afraid to strike out on my own, or take a big risk, or follow my dreams, I could instead seek the familiar and friendly confines of the church. Of course, it was all translated into wonderfully spiritual language.

    “I’m denying myself.” “I am refusing to compromise my faith.” “I’m doing this to please God.”

    These were the spiritual things I said to rationalize my actions, but in looking back, maybe I was just afraid of living my life. Maybe I was looking for an excuse. Basically, I wasn’t taking responsibility for my own life. At other times, faith has made me do nothing, all the while I wait for an answer from God, or some sign. Maybe instead of looking through the tea leaves, I should have just used my brain.

  6. Avatar
    howitis

    I absolutely despise this expression. I have lived through serious illness, bankruptcy, loss of job, loss of house, crushing debt, three miscarriages, car accident that left my husband hospitalized for a month, etc. I am sure that some of my fundie Christian relatives used that expression because they just didn’t know what else to say; I am sure others used it because they well and truly believe it (and have lived highly privileged lives devoid of much of the above shit…at least so far.)

    Memo to fundies (and everyone else for that matter): when someone you know is hurting and suffering, please, when it comes to religion, just Shut. The. Hell. Up. (unless the person specifically asks you to pray with them or for them.) Instead, say “I am sorry.” Offer them a hug. Listen. REALLY listen. Cook them a meal. Bring them groceries. Offer them a couch to crash on. If they need money, give them some. Or help them find a job. Or pay them to do some yardwork, shovel snow, or babysit your kids for you. Just do something, anything….except say: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” The next person who says that to me may just get a knee to the groin or a punch to the throat.

  7. Avatar
    Kel

    Bruce, this is so spot on.

    If God is sovereign, that means he is the prime cause for every bad thing that happens in this universe, since nothing can escape his will, per the apostle Paul. Everything: every abuse, every calamity, every disaster, and every bodily and mental sickness that destroys one’s resolve. If pressed hard enough, the Calvinists, in particular amongst all Christians, will admit to this. They would only disagree with you on the culpability of God in all this. “Well, he is sovereign, he can do whatever he wants”.

    I heard one pastor said that, if one human orchestrates the downfall of another human being behind the scene, like what God did to Pharaoh, that is manipulation. But since God is the ruler of the universe, it is okay.

    Take the case of Judas. Every Christian would agree that the crucifixion, made possible through his betrayal, was divinely pre-ordained (Acts 4: 27-28). Jesus himself said that the Son of Man has to be delivered to the hands of sinners, but woe to the man by whom he is betrayed. Red letter words in New KJV: “It would have been good for that man if he had never been born (Mark 14: 21).” So God created Judas for the sole purpose of him becoming a pawn in the universal drama, against Judas’ own eternal well-being. Compatibilism and secondary contingency notwithstanding, surely Judas would have chosen not to be born had he been given the insight and opportunity to do so. But alas, he has to find himself being crushed between the teeth of Lucifer in the lowest circle of Inferno (as per Dante) because God willed it.

    In a cold godless universe, bad things happen frequently and Disney-esque endings are never guaranteed. In a Dharmic universe, bad things happen as a result of bad karma and your misfortune can probably be traced back to your or somebody else’s past misdeeds. BUT, there are no divine sanctions behind the scene.

    In my most honest reflections, I always find myself preferring meaninglessness over malicious intent.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      The universe, or existence if you will, throws both crap and flowers at us. When we are able to compost the crap and enjoy the flowers, we tend to be happier. When we figure that the crap is sent by some entity to torture us, or teach us a lesson, or deepen our faith in the giver of crap, well, it really interferes with the composting, in my opinion. And yet the composting gives us the nutrients to grow our own flowers.

      Admittedly, the crap sometimes comes like effluent from a pig farm, and overwhelms us. Unfortunately, that’s part of the game of chance that is life. No human is deficient for not being able to handle flow like that, and so we all soldier on, overwhelmed. Still, assuming an entity is crapping on us for a reason makes it much worse.

  8. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    An elder I love lost her husband a few years ago, and it was a very, very painful shock. She was in much worse health than he, and so had concluded that she would die first. Instead, he had a fatal fall down some stairs in the night, and because they slept on different levels of a rabbit-warren house, she had the shock of getting up the next morning and finding his body. She’d heard a thump in the night, and assumed it was the cat knocking something over. Rolled over and went back to sleep.

    I urged her repeatedly to get grief counseling, and I think it had the potential to help a whole lot. One of the things that held her back was the idea that God wouldn’t give her more than she could handle. And so she had many, many dark days and sleepless nights, still does to some extent, berating herself for not responding to that thump in the night, even though the medical examiner said that he died instantly. Part of her wants to believe that she could have done SOMETHING. But…to refuse mental health help because God wouldn’t have given her anything she can’t handle…it saddens and angers me. I’m not angry at her, I’m angry at the religious tradition that taught her about that.

  9. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Bruce, this may be a topic for a blog post. When you were an evangelical pastor, student at Bible College, etc, where did you (and other evangelicals) get the idea that “God is good all the time”? I remember being told that over and over. Yet reading the Old Testament does NOT bear that out. 🤔 Even reading Psalms will give you treatises that sound like humans trying to flatter a deity with how great he is, either as loving and kind, or as a mighty warrior destroying one’s enemies. I know the contortions around God allowing Satan to do awful things to Job; for God asking Abraham to kill his son Isaac; for God ordering genocide in “the holy land”; for the Flood genocide. Those excuses for awful behavior are not acceptable to a human ordering those actions, yet a deity labeled as good gets away with it.

  10. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    God doesn’t give people more than they can handle, eh? Tell that to the folks hunkering down in Kyiv Metro stations.

    One of the first cracks in the armor of my faith came with the suicide of a friend. Like most people who grew up Catholic and who spent any time as an Evangelical Christian, I was taught to believe that suicide was not only a usurpation of God’s prerogative, but also a failure to trust that God doesn’t give a person more than they can handle. To this day, I believe that friend was a kinder, and simply better, human being than I have ever been or will be. But that friend was given a burden–actually, many burdens, but there was one in particular I knew very well–but not the resources, internal or external, to live with it.

    Had that friend lived a bit longer, they could have found help–from me, and from others, as we came to understand that friend’s burden (which I also bore)–and ourselves–better. But no such help would have been forthcoming from God.

  11. Avatar
    missimontana

    I’ve come to hate that expression with a passion. A woman once told me God allowed me to suffer abuse as a child because it made me a better and stronger person. When I reacted with anger and said it didn’t, she retorted with “But you survived!” Yes, that’s all that mattered to her; survive to praise Jesus.

  12. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    A related, but secular comment is, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

    I am going to take my cane to the next person who says that to me. Oh, and we won’t be talking about me, because I’m actually living a pretty decent life, all thinks considered. But I have told people about others I know who’ve suffered horrible things, been hit by that metaphorical blast of pig farm effluent, and some [epithet] person will trot out that old saying.

    I’d like to see a society in which we all say to people who are seriously suffering, wow, that’s tough, let me help. Where there are programs in place, run by competent organizations that are not fronts for proselytizing, that really can help. Where it is accepted that nobody has to be a Special Forces servicemember to be a fully human person, to be strong, to be courageous, to be capable, to be a good parent, to be a good person. Where it is accepted that suffering will happen disproportionately in a population even after we mitigate all the differential reasons why some people now invariably suffer more than others (think racism, sexism, LBGTQ bigotry, and ableism to start). That the universe turning the crap stream on some folks can’t be completely mitigated, and so the rest of us are ethically compelled to help.

    Where whatever doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you because your fellow humans are there at your side, defeating the monster, and all of you end up a little bit stronger and more ready to challenge the next unlucky person’s monster.

    What can I say, I’m an idealist.

  13. Avatar
    Brocken

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-jCo1kLH0s The author of this blog thought up of a story some Christian getting stranded in the desert and his car breaking down and instead of God sending him a bottle of Evian water the Christian dies a miserable, horrible death. At least it would be a less violent death than what happened to someone who made the mistake of been close to an evangelistic meeting held by Rolfe Barnard and not being converted. . It seemed that anytime that anyone who wasn’t converted by any of Rolfe Barnard’s sermons was pretty much guaranteed to suffer a sudden, violent and horrible death very shortly afterwards. Actually it does seem that God often does give people more than they can handle.

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Bruce Gerencser