”God won’t give us anything we can’t handle.” I heard this the other day. It was said after the one doing the saying had related a current list of difficulties being faced. On the surface this statement seemed to be a strong statement of faith based on Biblical truth, but the longer I thought about it the more I was uncomfortable with it. As I struggled with these uncomfortable feelings I tried to consider what bothered me most about this statement. After all, as a member of a Bible study told me, isn’t there a verse (1 Corinthians 10:13) that tells us just what that statement claims?
The more I thought about this the more I realized that I had no objection to the God part of the statement, but rather the phrase, “we can handle it”. “Of course”, comes the usual reply, “we cannot handle problems alone, but we can with God. Still, I am uneasy. I look at 1 Corinthians 10:13 and don’t see any reference to us handling anything at all. This verse clearly puts things in God’s hands not ours.
One thing we all can count on is that we will have problems. This is not a pleasant thought, but so true and is well supported by Scripture. However, it’s what we do with our problems that makes the difference. To be sure, believers in Christ will have problems and we can, according to Romans 8:28 (And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose), perceive these problems as opportunities to see God in action in our lives. However, knowing that God orders all things to work for the good of His children is not the same thing as saying we can handle all that comes at us. At this point someone is usually quick to say that 1Corinthians 10:13 says that we all will have problems, “such as are common to man” but not to the degree as to be above, “that we are able”, which is construed to mean “that we are able to handle” said problems. However, a careful look at this verse in context will establish that this is not what the Word of God is saying at all. Read the following:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. 5But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. 9Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. 10Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. 11Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. 12Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13There 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.
14Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:1-14, KJV).
The first difficulty in the above common explanation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 is that the word “problems” is never mentioned. The writer of this passage uses a Greek word translated “temptation” (enticement to do evil), which can be alternatively translated “trials” (testing) depending on context. While it is tempting to connect “trials” with “tribulations” (and equate “tribulations” with “problems”) since the two words are often linked together throughout the New Testament (2 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; Ephesians 3:13; Romans 5:3), we need to consider if there is no justification to do so in this case.
The context of I Corinthians 10:13, is the falling into sin of the rebellious children of Israel in the wilderness and the warning for believers in Christ not to do the same. In this light, the usage of the word “temptation” (being tested through enticement to do evil), as in the KJV of the Bible, is probably preferred, since this passage is warning against falling into debauchery (v.7), sexual immorality (v.8) tempting Christ (v.9), or murmuring against God (v.10). Verse 13 is telling us that that while we will have temptations to do wrong, God can be counted on not to allow our temptations to be greater than the ability He gives us to bear up under (endure) the temptations and therefore escape doing wrong. Verse 14 (often arranged in Bible versions as in a new paragraph) seals the matter by saying, “wherefore (consequently, since God has given the ability to resist temptation,) flee from idolatry” which includes putting one’s trust in anything, or anyone, but God which is the basis of all sin.
While this explanation of 1 Corinthians 10:13 can be expanded to include “problems” in that problems can indeed provide an enticement to sin (in particular by testing Christ, and by murmuring against God), the truth is, not that problems are being handled but rather that temptations are being endured. Should anyone think that this is splitting hairs or indulging in semantics, consider that the expression, “We can handle (or manage) all that God gives or allows to come our way” opens us up to placing trust in our abilities rather placing trust in God, which in turn, leads to the idolatrous notion that we have the ability to work out any adverse circumstance that comes our way. Such an interpretation leads to nothing but frustration, and often abandoned faith, when we are overwhelmed by situations we cannot manage. Contrast this with the wonderful truth that God is in control of all our circumstances, using them for our good while giving each of us the ability to remain true to Him.
So, rather than saying, “God won’t give me anything that I can’t handle”, I prefer the expression, “God won’t give me any situation, He won’t go through with me (Hebrews 13:5)”, for this implies that He is the faithful One that will enable me to be faithful to Him.