It’s Monday. A new week. New tasks. New burdens. New mercies. Podcast listener Fabian writes in to ask, “Dear Pastor John, this phrase ‘God will never give us more than what we can handle,’ is often used when someone is facing life challenges, suffering, and trials. Based on the Bible, is this phrase biblically correct?”
Two Essential Words
Whether that statement — “God will never give us more than what we can handle” — is biblically correct depends on what we mean by we and handle.
What does we mean? Does we mean God takes into account our independent possibilities based on our track record of handling trouble and, thus, measures out that trouble to us so that it doesn’t go beyond what we — independently, by our own resources — can handle? Is that what we means?
“If I survive any test or accomplish any work when I am tested, it is grace, decisively grace — not decisively me.”
Or, does we mean that we can handle it if we receive it by faith in divine assistance, and that God knows what he himself will give us by grace in enabling us to handle what he gives us? So, he is not thinking of we as independent, but we as dependent on the grace that comes with the difficulty. Which of those two does this statement ask about?
What does handle mean? Does handle mean you never collapse under it? Does it mean you never fail in any task? Does it mean you never mess up? Does it mean you never fail to get a B+ on every one of life’s tests?
Or, does handle mean that you never fail so that you never recover or repent or restore reconciliation, and that you are finally lost because you failed? Which does handle mean?
Dependent on Grace
To answer all of that and to give my answer to the question, let’s just look at the key texts that I think he probably has in mind. 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation” — or test, since it is the same word in Greek — “has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted [tested] beyond your ability [beyond what you are able], but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
When Paul says that God won’t give what is beyond what you are able, he means not beyond what you are able with God’s help. We know that because of a couple of other things he says. For example, in 2 Corinthians 9:8 he says, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
In other words, in every test or temptation, the question is, Will I do what I ought to do? Paul says, “There will be grace.” He does not merely say, “I am depending on you to use your resources without depending on grace.” Rather, God is telling us, “I am giving you grace so that there will be grace to do it, but you are not independent of my powers to help.”
“God will never give his people trials in which he will not sustain them and bring them through to everlasting glory.”
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” In other words, if I survive any test or accomplish any work when I am tested, it is grace, decisively grace — not decisively me.
So, my answer to the first query — What does we mean in the statement “God will never give us more than what we can handle”? — is that we means we who are helped by sovereign grace, not we independent of the power of God’s help.
Then the question is, What does handle mean? Does it mean never stumble, never fail, never get a C- or an F on a particular test that God gives? My answer is no. It doesn’t mean that. If we had perfect reliance on all that he is for us in Christ, we would pass every test glowingly, but God does not promise that kind of perfect reliance on his omnipotent grace.
Well then, what is being promised when he says that we will always have, with every test, an escape and when he says that we will have grace for every good work? I think what is promised is ultimately this: God will never let us so stumble or so fail that we don’t recover and repent and are restored. In other words, he will never let us sin our way into apostasy and damnation. He will enable us to bear the fruits of genuine faith and perseverance to the end.
Here are the texts that make me think that:
- Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
- Romans 8:30: “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” He is going to keep you.
- Luke 22:31–32: “Simon, Simon,” Jesus says to Peter, “behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat [or, get your faith out of you], but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” In other words, I prayed for you. Yes, you are going to deny me tonight, but I am bringing you back. You are going to get an F on this test tonight, and I am going to make you pass your life-test.
- 1 Peter 1:5: “By God’s power [we] are being guarded through faith for a salvation.” God’s power is guarding me. He won’t let me fail in any test utterly.
- 1 Corinthians 1:8: “[He] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, here’s my conclusion. “God will never give us more than what we can handle” — is that biblically correct? Yes, if we mean God will never give his people trials in which he will not sustain them and bring them through to everlasting glory. We will be enabled to do all we must do to get there.