It’s Monday. A new week. New tasks. New burdens. New mercies. And 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, sufferings, and trials. Based on the Bible, is this phrase biblically correct?”
Whether that statement — “God will never give us more than we can handle” — is biblically correct depends on what we mean by “we” and “handle.”
Two Essential Words
“If I survive any test or accomplish any work when I am tested, it is decisively grace, not decisively me.”
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?
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?
And “handle.” 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 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?
So, to answer all of that and give my answer to the question, let’s just look at the key texts that I think he probably has in mind. First Corinthians 10:13: “no temptation” — or “test” since it is the same word in Greek — “no test has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted [tested] beyond your ability” — or 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.”
Dependent on Grace
When Paul says he 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?” And Paul says, “There will be grace,” not just, “I am depending on you to use your resources without depending on grace.” “I am giving you grace so there will be grace to do it. But you are not independent of my powers to help.”
And he 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 this statement: ‘God will never give us more than “we” can handle’?” is that “we” means we who are helped by sovereign grace, not we independent of the power of God’s help.
And then the question is, “What does ‘handle’ mean? Never stumble? Never fail? Never get a C- or an F on a particular test that God gives?” And 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? And I think what is promised is ultimately this: He 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.
“God will never give his people trials in which he will not sustain them and bring them through to everlasting glory.”
And 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” — 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.” 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 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.
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