We’ve all seen them.
Those seemingly harmless, inspirational sayings that have seeped into our Christian verbiage like oil into carpet.
They cover our refrigerators, bumpers and Facebook walls. And we know that wherever they are right now, they’ll end up in our bathrooms bordered by floral patterns or, worse, crocheted. It’s as if their purpose is to upset all of our senses.
Recently, 4 of these phrases came to my attention. My assignment is a bit tricky, because as with all good lies, there’s a hint of truth in each of these. But my job is to ever so humbly root through them for biblical truthiness and offer correctives.
This phrase is part of a family of power sayings like “Get ‘er done,” “Just Do It” and “If it’s gonna get done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” Never say all three of these at the same time. You might explode.
The problem is when it comes to God, we’re actually kind of powerless.
If someone is struggling with sin, then this phrase has all the relevancy of “just stop it.” We know that never works.
But God has a tender spot for those who can’t help themselves. Do you know why? It’s impossible to do anything good apart from Him.
Of course this doesn’t mean we sit on our butts doing nothing and munching Oreos. We get on our knees and then do the good He’s put in front of us to do.
So my humble correction to this phrase is: “God helps those who can’t help themselves and recognize their desperate need for Him.”
I used this phrase once with my jogging partner Tom. The klutz broke his ankle last time we ran.
While he moaned, I pointed out, “Tom, you don’t need to worry. God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Suddenly he said some remarkable things using an extensive depth of vocabulary.
The phrase seems logical. It may even calm me when I think I might miss my morning coffee and try to face the day decaffeinated. But it begs the question: How much pain can we handle?
Step up to the mic, Job.
I’d say losing your kids, your wealth, your health and being tormented by Satan is more than most can handle. To top it off, his friends doled out the kind of “comfort” that Christians try to express with this phrase. Namely, the kind of advice that comforts the bearer, not the recipient.
The phrase actually comes from a verse dealing with temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:13. It states that with God’s help, He will never allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. That verse in Corinthians is very different from the cultural saying “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
The cultural phrase doesn’t bring comfort. And it’s not true. So let’s just stop using it.
I think this phrase has something to do with surrender and trust, or the movie Frozen.
But the phrase is a little mushy. Let go of what, and let God do what?
It could be anything! Leggo my Eggo? Let go of our Bibles and let God enable us to rebuild our theology around, oh I don’t know, Frozen?
I’m sure just like that dang Frozen song – the one that gives parents cheese-grater-on-the-chalkboard chills – this phrase started with good intentions, namely that we surrender to God.
But maybe we should say what we mean. How about, “Quit grasping for control and surrender to God.” As Christians, we’re called to recognize that apart from Him we can do nothing, to turn away from our sin, and to look to God for life.
Unless you’re someone who believes that there is no meaning or purpose to life, then you believe things happen for a reason. And as Christians, I think we must mean something akin to God’s sovereignty when we use this phrase.
But boiling down God’s mysterious sovereignty to the word “reason” is a stretch. The kind of stretch I feel when my daughter dares me to do the splits. Yeah, God has His reasons. But this hurts!
It’s like getting a cold-pack when we need a hot-pack. We use it to ease suffering and to encourage others when bad things happen. Of course we only use it when bad things happen to other people. But I wouldn’t want someone to say it to me.
The phrase doesn’t offer any biblical encouragement whatsoever. It may even do the opposite if we don’t believe in a loving God.
In all seriousness, when sayings like these are held to the same standard as biblical truth, they can distort the gospel. Before we adopt any saying as gold, it’s important to see if it’s found in the Bible. And if not, then see if it aligns with biblical truth.
For example, if this article has the same effect as the soul-destroying song in Frozen, my sincerest apologies. However, God will never give you more than you can handle.
writes for Cru's publications as a missionary journalist. He earned a master’s degree in Christian studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Philip balances family life along with bike riding, drawing and whittling toy cars. Contact him at Philip.Long@cru.org.
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