Can You Handle It?
I often hear people talk about the promise that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” While no passage of Scripture uses those words, these folks probably have in mind what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
Is this the same as saying that God won’t give us more than we can handle?
The New Testament word “tempt” (Greek peirazō) means to try, test, or prove. Sometimes “temptation” means enticement to sin (see Matthew 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; Hebrews 4:15). James gives it this sense when he says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13). In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul’s reference to a “way of escape” points to this sort of tempting.
This same word family, however, is also used more broadly of anything that puts our faith or character to the test. It is used to describe Abraham’s being tested by the command to sacrifice Isaac (Hebrews 11:17). Peter talks of being tested by suffering (1 Peter 4:12-13). And James gives the word this sense when he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).
Is it correct, then, to say that God will not give you more than you can handle? In one sense, yes. Our temptations will not be more than we can endure; there is always an escape route, a way to avoid sin in any given situation. Every circumstance that tries our faith is an opportunity to grow, which certainly implies that we will not be tested in a way that’s impossible to endure. God in His providence will not allow us to face a temptation or trial that forces us to betray our faith.
The Holy Spirit does not promise that the way of escape from sin will be easy. Nor does He promise that the trials which produce endurance will be only moderately difficult. In Revelation, for example, Christians were encouraged to be faithful even if it cost them their lives (Revelation 2:9-10; 12:11). Was that more than they could handle?
This is important, because people sometimes reason this way: “(1) God won’t give me more than I can handle. (2) I know I wouldn’t be able to handle it if ______ happened. (3) Therefore, God will not let that happen.” Do you see what’s happening here? This person is trying to dictate what God can do based on what he supposes he could “handle,” effectively making God’s wisdom and power subject to his own psychological or emotional comfort.
If you find yourself thinking this way, watch out! When we think we can limit God’s providence, it’s just a short step to thinking we can limit His authority. We may reason: “(1) God won’t give me more than I can handle. (2) I can’t handle the demands of obeying this or that command of God; it’s just too much for me. (3) Therefore, God will not require me to obey it.” Sound ridiculous? This is exactly how some people have reasoned away Biblical teaching (or rather, their own accountability to it) in matters like divorce and sexual purity: “I just can’t handle that, so it doesn’t apply to me.” They have turned the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 on its head, rejecting God’s power and willingness to strengthen and support those who trust in Him.
The Bible does not say, “God will not allow you to be tempted or tested beyond what you think is reasonable.” Nor does it say, “God will never ask you to do anything that’s hard.” We have to learn to trust the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Perhaps the more accurate paraphrase of Paul’s words would be, “God will not give you more than He can handle.” If He does not remove the mountain, then He will give us the strength to climb it. If, that is, we are willing to say with Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).