“God will only give you what you can handle.”
Well-meaning friends often share this misquoted truth with me when they learn of our family’s circumstances over the past few years. Many quote it as a verse straight from the Bible.
We moved cross-country with two toddlers and, within a week of moving, were surprised by the news I was pregnant with boy-girl twins. Meanwhile, my husband changed careers and had to figure out a brand-new field on his own. I gave birth to the twins only to discover shortly after holding them in my arms that one of them had Down syndrome.
Two months later, COVID-19 hit and I had to supervise my two older children doing school from home while I breastfed newborn twins. While continuing to reel from the news that we were suddenly parents of a child with special needs, we discovered the other twin had a rare disease that would require very involved at-home medical care and multiple surgeries. In between surgeries, our baby with Down syndrome began having brain-damaging seizures that required multiple hospitalizations.
All these events took place in rapid succession. The emotional toll on our family is incredible. Suffice to say, the weight on our souls has felt absolutely unbearable, and we’ve been clinging to Christ for dear life.
Good Motive, Bad Theology
Enter the phrase, “God will only give you what you can handle.” Friends who offer this expression amid suffering genuinely want to encourage. But it’s important to consider this cordial catchphrase in light of the gospel. Because not only is it not in the Bible, it’s not true. The truth is that God does give us what we cannot handle.
There are times when God puts us in situations that are legitimately impossible to handle on our own. We don’t have the capacity, the strength, or the resources. We feel the weight of the burdens taking us down. We’re swept under powerful waves and are gasping for air. We experience this in our own lives, and we read about it in Scripture.
God Gives What We Can’t Handle
God called Moses to free the Israelites from slavery to one of the most powerful empires of the time, and from one of the most powerful rulers of the time. God led his people right up to the Red Sea—an impossible place, an impossible situation. I can only imagine the immense stress and fear the people of God felt as they heard the clink and rush of the Egyptian chariots pursuing them while they stood at the sea with no way forward.
Tiny David went up against the massive and intimidating Goliath, a sure and guaranteed failure. David could not handle the fight against Goliath.
When Jesus asked the disciples to feed a massive crowd who gathered to hear his teaching, he gave them a task they couldn’t handle. Their supplies were scarce. Five loaves of bread and two pieces of fish? They must have wondered if Jesus was serious when he asked them to feed 5,000 with such a small amount.
And yet, in each of these circumstances, God made a way. He supernaturally intervened and enabled weak, frail, and failing humans to come out the other side of the situation, absolutely amazed at God’s ability.
Message of Self-Insufficiency
The gospel isn’t a message of self-sufficiency. It’s a message of self-insufficiency. It’s a message of reliance on Jesus for his all-sufficiency.
Scripture is filled with stories of people in divinely ordained situations they surely couldn’t handle. When you pick up the Bible, you’re not reading stories of capable, self-assured individuals who are ready for whatever life brings their way. The Bible is not about people being given what they can handle, and the extra strong ones getting the extra difficult circumstances because they’re the ones who can handle them. No, that’s not the story of Scripture.
Not only is it not true, but it’s also an idea that could be damaging. If we think God only gives us what we can handle, what do we do when we’re in a situation that seems impossible to bear?
The gospel isn’t a message of self-sufficiency. It’s a message of self-insufficiency. It’s a message of reliance on Jesus for his all-sufficiency. We need Jesus. We need Jesus not only to rescue us from our sins but to walk with us through difficult and overwhelming circumstances.
God Provides a Way Out
In 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV) Paul does say God “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Perhaps this is where the popular phrase originates. However, in the very next part of the verse Paul says, “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Notice that in the face of temptation, God is the one providing the rescue.
In the face of temptation, God is the one providing the rescue.
The overall narrative of Scripture emphasizes time and time again that when humans are at the end of their resources and capabilities, God is ready to lovingly intervene and empower us. He’s with us in the valley, leading and shepherding us. He’s with us in the fire, keeping us from being burned and enabling us every step of the way.
My husband and I have been going through the fire, and the Lord is using it all to prove our mustard-seed faith is genuine. We’ve been in the murk and come face-to-face with our inadequacies. The road ahead of us with our unique circumstances will continue to be challenging. Yet we’ve already been amazed at how the Lord has carried us, sustained us, and deeply encouraged us with his love.
We can’t handle it. But he can.