God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.
Because there have been many times when I have failed. Many times when I was alone and prayed to God to protect me from temptation only to give in and look at porn a few minutes later. Many times when I had to give a talk that I was nervous for and definitely didn’t do the message or myself any justice.
So is it true that God won’t give us anything we can’t handle?
First off the part of the Bible that this comes from doesn’t actually say that God won’t give us anything we can’t handle. What it does say is that He won’t give us any temptation that will prove to be too strong for us to resist against. Furthermore, when temptation does come along He will provide a way out for us. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
There have been two major ways I think we have misread this passage.
The first is that God won’t allow anything bad to happen to us. Now at this point we could go in all sorts of directions regarding where does evil come from, does God really have control over the world or why would a good God let such horrific things happen to people? Important questions I am sure everyone would agree but I think we would also all agree, regardless of the answers to these questions, bad things do happen to people everyday.
A quick read of some of the major stories in the Bible clearly shows that even if you are close to God or even a disciple of Jesus’ things don’t always go the way you think they will.
So right away we should be honest and correctly state that this passage does not talk to us about our life circumstance or major life events that shape the rest of our lives, good or bad; but is talking about something else entirely.
That is, the choice we have to do good or evil.
The choice we have when faced with temptation to give in or resist and choose a way that is more difficult but ultimately won’t destroy us.
So all those times I looked at porn I believe truly there was a way out for me. Temptation can have a power that very few of us find easy to resist. It takes work. It takes honesty. It takes perseverance. It even takes failure to learn how to do it.
Which leads to the second major way we misread this passage.
Which is the idea that when temptation comes our way God will provide an easy way out. That a quick prayers will make the temptation lose it’s power.
When we treat God like this we are treating him no better than a genie in a bottle. Someone we call on when we need something. Could it be that when Paul talks about God providing a way out of temptation he isn’t necessarily talking about a quick fix but about God providing a way for us to grow into the kind of communities and individuals that are able to stand firm in the face of temptation.
If we read other parts of Paul this idea certainly fits into a lot of what he talks about. For example when he says that
suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5: 3,4)
or when Peter says,
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
or when James writes,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:3)
Passages like these clearly show that character takes work, takes the experiences that we all would rather not have to go through, but that character is what leads us to resisting temptation long term.
When we are in moments where the temptation feels so overwhelming and that there is no way to get past the moment other than to give in to the temptation; God will indeed give us the way out. That could be through a phone call or through a system where your friend knows the times you are most vulnerable and is there to walk you through the moment.
But ultimately God provides us a way out of temptation when we do the work behind the scenes. When we know that we are going to be alone we make plans the day before to get out of the house. When we have a friend call us at the same time every day to chat through how we are doing.
In the face of this, temptation gradually loses it’s power.
Which brings us back to the first misconception; that God won’t allow us to suffer difficult times or at least times that we can’t handle.
There is of course a huge amount of pain in the world that is out of our control.
But there is also a huge amount of suffering that arises from the pain we cause others when we choose to do evil rather than to do good. From our individual actions all the way to the actions of companies that abuse their workers or exploit the Earth’s resources or start wars with other countries.
When we build communities that are full of love and grace then even though we can’t stop suffering or pain sometimes in our lives; we will be surrounded by people who will help us live another day.
Selfishness and greed are at the root of all temptations. Perhaps they are at the root of most of the world’s suffering too.
And perhaps it’s not God that gives us things we can’t handle, but ourselves.