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02 April 2018

“God will never give you more than you can handle.”

Tell that to Moses sometime.

1 Corinthians 10.13.

This verse gets misused often. And just as often, underused and ignored.

1 Corinthians 10.13 KJV
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.

Since this is part of a series on context, let’s first deal with the out-of-context way Christians quote it: They use it to proof-text the old platitude, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

You can kinda see how it devolved into that. “God… will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” somehow lost the word “tempted,” which is the entire point of this verse. It’s about temptation. God doesn’t allow us to be overcome by temptation. God always provides a way out of temptation. Anybody who claims, “I had no choice but to give in”—that’s rubbish, because God always provides a way out, and they simply didn’t wanna take it.

Without “tempted,” it’s simply, “God won’t give you above that ye are able,” or “what you can handle,” or however we care to phrase it: Times may be tough, but relax! You can do this. God may challenge you, but he’ll never, ever push you beyond your breaking point.

That’s where the misinterpretation goes all wrong. ’Cause every Christian gets pushed past our respective breaking points. It’s called “the crisis of faith,” and if you’ve been avoiding yours, you’ve been avoiding God. Some of us, he’s gotta break like a piñata. ’Cause the stuff in us, which he’s trying to get out of us? It ain’t candy.

There is a time to build up, and a time to break down. Ec 3.3 And sometimes God’s behind the breakdown.

A time to stop.

I’ve lost jobs. I’ve seen churches fold up. Businesses fold. Ministries shut down. Loved ones die. Things end. It’s part of life.

Sometimes it’s time; they’ve served their purpose, and now they’re just going through the motions, and need to stop. Sometimes circumstances are against them. And sometimes God’s against them, ’cause he’s moved on to something else—but they haven’t, and at this rate are gonna go wrong, and he’s gotta put a stop to it. Or, worst-case, they’ve gone wrong already.

Often we have no idea when it’s time to stop. We think we’re at a low point, or at a lull before a busy time. We don’t wanna be done. I get that. I’ve been there.

Seven years ago the trustees of my seminary decided to close it. It’d been a financial mess for decades, and the debts were in the millions. Nobody was gonna bail it out; no scheme to sort out the finances was working; the trustees decided to do the responsible thing. But its alumni loved the place, and some of us were extremely bitter about it. Still are. I can’t even talk to them without some of their bile spewing forth about the school. Still.

’Cause they assumed, as most people do, our institutions will outlast us. Maybe they’d send their kids and grandkids there. They imagined God had great plans for it. (Hey, every president and dean who begged for funding, said so!) But now all these plans appeared to be frustrated, and they can’t accept God is okay with things as they are. So they wanna blame trustees, administrators, past presidents, the denomination, its pastors, even the students.

Hey, sometimes people can’t take no for an answer.

Look. God didn’t scramble Babel’s languages Ge 11.1-9 so people could tackle the challenge of living in a multi-lingual society. He confounded them so people would scatter. Because God doesn’t care about institutions; he loves people. (I know; some of you will argue he loves the church, but I remind you the church is people.) Sometimes institutions die.

And even though God loves people, everybody still dies.

And yet. Every single time I’ve met a dying Christian’s relatives, they say, with blind hope, “God’ll never give us more than we can handle!” ’Cause they insist their loved ones are gonna be cured and get better, ’cause God would never take ’em away. As if every Christian is gonna get raptured like Elijah instead of dying. Well it’s not like Jesus will never return and do just that—but till he does, Christians die. Everybody dies. And when they do, these poor Christians just go wild, because they expected unrealistic things of God, and he gently but sadly had to break them of that.

Yeah, it’s frustrating when God shuts doors. It’s why people are so often tempted to do an end-run around him, and make stuff happen regardless. When my seminary closed, so many people said all we needed was a cash infusion from some billionaire; that’d solve everything! When an acquaintance died years ago, her family refused to unplug the machines because they kept her breathing, and that to them meant she was alive. We humans go to crazy extremes to fight the inevitable. But that’s not faith. Therefore not Christianity.

So when things end, and we don’t like them, we gotta cast ourselves upon God. Ask him what he really wants us to do: Take a radical step of faith and raise the dead, or join him on a better path? Don’t presume we know his will. Don’t presume we know better. We don’t. He does.

A time to be judged.

True, judgment comes at the End. But as we see in the Old Testament time and again, it can come early. If God decides evil must be stopped, and the sheep need to be separated from the goats Mt 25.31-46 right now, he’s under no obligation to wait. He’s not judging everybody just yet, but he’s definitely judging a person, a group, or a nation.

Sad to say, some Christians love this idea, and want God to get started right away. They’ll help! But let’s not discuss them today; they’re getting ahead of God, and he’ll judge them accordingly. I’m only talking about the judging which is wholly done by God, not his wayward, vengeful kids.

So sometimes God decides to expose an evil politician or pastor. Or ruin an evil business. Or flatten an evil town. No I’m not saying all these situations are acts of God, unlike some Christians. Not even saying most of them are. But the scriptures state sometimes they are, Ex 9.23 and we’ll recognize them by the fact God warns of coming disaster before the fact—not when fake prophets proclaim God’s vengeance afterwards.

See, if it’s a God thing, he warns people away from disaster first. He doesn’t wanna resort to disaster! He wants people to repent and straighten out. But when we won’t, and he has to step in and stop evil, God’ll do just that. We haven’t given him any better option.

And we never have to reach that point. Repent! Turn from sin, and ask God for help. God always provides chances to get it right… until judgment comes, so let’s never push things that far.

A time to get help.

In my experience, God gives me more than I can handle because he doesn’t want me to handle these things alone. The task is too big for one person. I’m to get help, not pridefully figure I can handle things all by myself. Sometimes I’m to seek God’s help, but often I’m to seek other Christians’ help.

Moses is an obvious example of this one.

Exodus 18.13-18 KWL
13 It was morning. Moses sat to judge the people.
The people stood before Moses from morning to evening.
14 Father-in-law Jethro saw Moses, and everything he did for people.
He said, “What are these ‘words’ which you do for people?
Why do you sit by yourself, and all the people stand before you from morning to evening?”
15 Moses told his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to seek God.
16 When I have a word, they come to me.
I judge between a man and his fellow. I make them know God’s rules and laws.”
17 Father-in-law Jethro told Moses, “The ‘words’ you do aren’t good.
18 You’ll wilt, wilt—you, and this people with you.
For these ‘words’ are too heavy for you. You can’t do them alone!”

Jethro rightly advised Moses to delegate his prophetic judging to right-minded Israelis who hate corruption, Ex 18.21 and therefore won’t take bribes. Otherwise he’d burn out, and Jethro was entirely sure God didn’t want that. Ex 18.23

Seeking help fosters relationships, and God values relationships. We Americans, on the other hand, value independence. Way more than we should, sometimes. We wanna achieve things alone, take credit for it, and take pride in ourselves. But that’s not how God wants to build his kingdom. He wants cooperation: Us with him, following him, seeking his will, and to do it with the other people of his church.

This kingdom is an impossible task for us without God. We need to seek help when we seek the kingdom. So we gotta partner with God and one another… and yet American Christians keep insisting on doing it alone. Again, ’cause pride.

We miss the point Jesus made by sending out his apostles in twos. Mk 6.7 He didn’t have to send them in twos, y’know. They’d have covered way more ground had they gone out individually. But when you have infinite resources like God does, he’s not thinking about efficiency. (One person can evangelize a nation, remember?) The point of doing it together is doing it together. God could build his kingdom on his own, but he doesn’t wanna. He wants to include us. Not as cheerleaders, but participants.

So when God gives us more than we can handle, don’t miss the point, or try to work smarter instead of harder. Figure out why this burden is on your plate. Get help. Seek him. Repent. Whatever we gotta do to follow him best.