9 Lies You Hear in Church: #3. God Never Gives You More Than You Can Bear

Part 3 of the series “9 Lies You Hear in Church
Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center
September 23, 2012
1 Corinthians 10:6-13; Matthew 11:28-30

Illustration by Rachel Ternes

1 Corinthians 10:6–13 • These things were examples for us, so we won’t crave evil things like they did. Don’t worship false gods like some of them did, as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink and they got up to play. Let’s not practice sexual immorality, like some of them did, and twenty-three thousand died in one day. Let’s not test Christ, like some of them did, and were killed by the snakes. Let’s not grumble, like some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer. These things happened to them as an example and were written as a warning for us to whom the end of time has come. So those who think they are standing need to watch out or else they may fall. No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.

Matthew 11:28–30 • “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

I. BEGINNING

People are surprised to find that at no time in the movie Casablanca does Rick ever say, “Play it again, Sam.”  It is also surprising to know that in over 79 Star Trek episodes and 6 movies, no one ever actually says, “Beam me up, Scotty.” But people all assume that those clichés—and many others, too—are from the films and movies they attribute them, too.

It works the same with the Bible.  There are all kinds of things that people assume the Bible says but it actually doesn’t.  At the top of that list is “The Lord helps those who help themselves” with something like 80% of Christians believing that quote is from the Bible. (It’s actually from the Ancient Greeks by way of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac).

But in a close second is the statement: “God never gives you more than you can bear.”  It is frequently “quoted” to people in times of distress with great certainty.  Everything will be alright—the suffering one is told—God wouldn’t have given you this trial if you couldn’t get through it.

Right off the bat, however, there are two basic problems with that quote.

II. THE TEXTS

First, it’s not in the Bible. There’s a quote like it; but there is nothing that says “God will never give you more than you can bear.”  The quote that is frequently used to back up the idea, from 1 Corinthians, doesn’t really say what people assume it does:

No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.

Paul is reminding his readers that God will not allow people to be tempted beyond their abilities.  That is, there is no temptation that you should feel you are powerless against, because God would not allow you to be tempted by something you couldn’t resist.  If you’re being tempted, in Paul’s thinking, it’s something you are strong enough to resist.

But that is a far different thing from claiming that nothing will happen to you, that you will not have to bear a burden, that you cannot bear. In fact, in addition to that quote not being in the Bible, we can find plenty of quotes that mean the exact opposite that are in the Bible, including one from Paul himself where he writes:

“Brothers and sisters, we don’t want you to be unaware of the troubles that we went through in Asia. We were weighed down with a load of suffering that was so far beyond our strength that we were afraid we might not survive.” (2 Corinthians 1:8 CEB)

“We were weighed down with a load of sufferings that was so far beyond our strength that we were afraid we might not survive.”  That is quite different from saying “God didn’t give us any burdens we couldn’t bear.”

And elsewhere in scripture we find similar sentiments.  In the Psalms:

“I’m worn out, completely crushed; I groan because of my miserable heart.” (Psalms 38:8 CEB)

“My wrongdoings are stacked higher than my head; they are a weight that’s way too heavy for me.” (Psalms 38:4 CEB)

Elsewhere we read of Elijah being told by an angel:

 “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” (1 Kings 19:7) [1]

Throughout scripture, we encounter people overwhelmed by what befalls them.  And lest we forget, this applies to Jesus, too, who dies in agony on the cross, crying out “My God, My God, why have you left me?”

III.  THE REALITY

But the second problem, apart from the fact that this “verse” is not in scripture is that our life experience doesn’t bear it out either.  There are all kinds of things that happen that we cannot bear.  We contract fatal illnesses.  We suffer the death of loved ones.  Sometimes our lives come crashing down around us.

This is the problem I have with what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “Sentimental Christianity”.  It’s a religion of trite platitudes that are designed to make people feel better with quick, bumper-sticker length snippets of theology.  This theology is usually of the self-help variety (remember, the Lord helps those who help themselves!) and while long on optimism is short on the ability to confront the real brokenness of the world.  For it’s almost as if people never consider the contexts in which such insipid theology fails altogether:

Could you imagine saying to an inmate at Auschwitz, “Don’t worry; God never gives you more than you can bear!”?

Or a woman whose children are killed by a long buried landmine while they were playing?  Or a refugee who surivived the massacre of her entire village?  Or someone who has just been given a diagnosis of a terminal illness? Or someone overwhelmed by grief and loss?  Or someone who through no fault of their own is crushed by depression, anxiety, or other afflictions?  Sentimental Christianity is entirely useless in these circumstances.  And if all we’re prepared to say is “God never gives us more than you can bear” then in situations where such a platitude is clearly false, we are left with nothing to say.

Maybe part of the problem is a problem with Protestantism.  See, unlike the Catholics, we don’t have Jesus on the cross.  It’s just a pretty little shape and easy to draw, too!  It’s harder to remember that it is an instrument of torture, and death, and injustice.  A method of death whereby the victim’s own diaphragm collapses and the person suffocates to death on the cross; his body literally unable to bear its own burden.  A crucifix at least has the virtue of reminding us of that.  Because while our faith is driven by the hope and the promise of the Resurrection, we live very much in a world defined by the Crucifixion.  The shadow of the Cross is large in the world and it is not chased out by sentimental statements that do not jibe with our experience of the world.

IV. BEARING THE BURDEN

As with all the ideas we’re looking at in this sermon series, this one has the potential to do great spiritual violence to the believer.  Because there is a great level of cognitive dissonance among the faithful, many of whom profess belief in this idea but who themselves are being crushed under their burdens.  If God never gives us more than we can bear, they think, and I am being crushed, then what is wrong with me?  What am I doing wrong?  Why isn’t God helping me?

In one online forum, another pastor was taking on this exact belief and challenging it as bad theology. In the comments section of that post was the following:

I have been having a very hard time with that scripture and feeling like a failure as a christian because I felt like I am not strong enough. I lost my sister to cancer and then my baby sister in a wreck and this June I lost my oldest child and everyone kept saying God would not put more on me than I could bear. Tonight I decided to start searching to see if it was scripture and I know that God led me to your page and it has helped to take away the guilt of feeling like a bad christian because I am having such a hard time dealing with the loss of my child.

Image courtesy wordle.net

How many people are suffering great burdens and then on top of that, suffering because they’re suffering?  What cruelty to tell people that they should be able to bear all their problems, else God would not have given them to them and then for those same people to realize that they are outmatched, that they cannot bear what has come their way.  And as with the woman above, the only conclusion they come to is that they are bad Christians, or bad people, or lack proper faith.  Ultimately, in the minds of the faithful, if they’re suffering what has come upon them then it’s their fault.  They have screwed up, because God would certainly never allow this kind of burden to fall on someone who couldn’t bear it.  So the failure to do so must be their own.

This, then, raises yet another problem in addition to the two noted earlier.  In addition to this verse not being Biblical and not being an accurate reflection of our experience, it has one other major failing: it places all the focus in the wrong place.

The sentiment that God never gives you anything more than you can bear makes it about what you can bear.  And as I am fond of saying, if I could add a line to the creeds or to the commandments, it’d be “It’s not about you.”

That is precisely the point that Paul makes in his second letter to the Corinthians.  In the verse that follows immediately after his statement that they were weighed down with a load of sufferings that was so far beyond their strength that they were afraid they might not survive, he writes:

“It certainly seemed to us as if we had gotten the death penalty. This was so that we would have confidence in God, who raises the dead, instead of ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 1:9 CEB)

Note what Paul is saying.  We thought we were finished.  Dead.  We knew that we couldn’t handle it because it was beyond our strength.  But all of that is to remind us that we should have confidence in God and not in ourselves.  What Paul reminds us is that our trials and sufferings are not a measure of how much we can bear.  Indeed, we may often encounter sufferings that are very much more than we can handle.

What Paul does is remind us that the sufferings are not something apart from God. They are not tests sent by God to us, but rather places in which we encounter God.

And that’s why the cross is such an important symbol for us.  And not the empty cross.  The cross with Jesus still on it.  The Cross on which we see the Son of God suffering pain, humiliation, injustice, and violence, to the point of death.

The cross reminds us not only of the brokenness of the world—a brokenness that is glossed over by Sentimental Christianity—but also reminds us that in those times of suffering and pain, we are not alone.  We encounter a God who stands with us in the suffering.  A God who is not apart from that burden and pain, but one who is in it with us.  As Jesus himself says in the Gospel lesson we heard earlier:

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

Our faithfulness is not demonstrated by how easily we are able to bear the burdens that come our way.  Our faith is demonstrated by our recognition that we cannot bear the burdens ourselves and trust in the grace of God who bears them with us.

V.   END

But there is yet one more point to note.  For just as we proclaim that God is made known to us through the person of Jesus Christ, we maintain that Christ is made known to the world through the Church that is to be the Body of Christ in the world.  And what that means is that so long as the Church exists, so long as the faithful gather in community to pray, to worship, to reflect, no one has to bear their burdens alone.

The church is not an everyone-lift-yourself-up-by-your-spiritual-bootstraps community.  It is not one that says that the Lord helps those who help themselves or that God never gives you more than you can bear.  Well, it shouldn’t be, anyway.  The whole point of this sermon series is that it all too often is those things.

But the church should be a place where you can come and say, “I have a burden that I cannot bear” and instead of being judged for having a weak faith, you are surrounded by a network of love and support that will bear that burden with you.  Just as Christ takes upon himself the burdens we cast upon him, so too do we, as the Body of Christ, take upon ourselves the burdens of those who come to us.

Faith is not some kind of contest of worthiness.  It is not a simple system of incentives and rewards, of challenges and payoffs.  It is a lifelong journey of facing the struggles of the world and moving forward with hope.  But that kind of faith cannot thrive in a context where you’re told that your faith is judged based on what you’re able to do.  Down that path lies self-doubt, loss of faith, and pain upon pain.  Down that road comes not simply the suffering of the burdens of the world, but the suffering for the fact that we’re suffering in the first place.

But the Gospel reminds us that while our problems do not magically disappear because we have become followers of Christ (in fact, as Paul suggests, they may increase!), we are promised that in those sufferings we are not alone. God does allow us to suffer things we cannot bear… alone.  But we do not have to bear them alone.

For we are surrounded by a community of love and welcome that accepts us in our brokenness, that comforts us in our afflictions, and that stands with us in our times of need.

And in so doing, the Church witnesses to the God who stands beside us in our times of trouble, the God whose very message of salvation is wrapped up in solidarity, and the God who says to us: “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”



  • two and a half satisfied

    but really, is there an explanation that faith and belief in God and its propagation has to be fragmented and divided into thousands of sects and religions paving the way to different interpretations and more often rift among the believing people? Sorry, but until there will be an actual one true entity of faith, surely then there would be an actual Divine Providence…

    • John White

      It’s sad that we can’t agree on the basics of God enough that we can have one, true church, as we did in the old Roman catholic days. But God is bigger than our theologies, and no one institution “gets it” all the way. What we need is not fewer sects and institutions, oddly enough, but simply people willing to listen to one another. The universal Christian nation, as it were, has gotten a lot better at listening to one another and accepting their differences, much better than have the muslim sects (just to point a finger unjustly). It’s a cop-out to refuse to believe in God because God allows all people individually “to work out their salvation” on their own.

  • Lisa

    Wow. I needed to hear this message so badly 2 1/2 years ago when my life was struck down with despair by an incredibly unforseen and massive spinal injury. I cannot tell you how many christians told me God would not give me more than what I could handle – and how those words devastated me all the more each time they were spoken.

    I told the world “I have a burden that I cannot bear” …and the people in my world did not hear me. I’ve never stopped seeking an understanding of why it is that people say that phrase – and only just the other day did I finally find the true biblical scripture which teaches no such thing. I was at a women’s bible study where the lead speaker misquoted 1 Corinthians 10:13 and uttered those painful words to the crowd “God won’t give us any more than we can bear”…..I immediately began to relive the pain from the past few years, barely able to contain my tears until leaving the room.

    That prompted me to find the scripture in the bible for myself, and read it with my own two eyes. I couldn’t believe how my pain left my heart as I read the true words that were written, and realized everyone else had actually been wrong. All these years I kept telling my husband, “It just doesn’t make sense to me, it just doesn’t make sense!” And now I know why it never made sense – because God never said it.

    If anyone knew how much pain they caused by telling another human they should be able to bear their burdens – I’m sure they wouldn’t say it. I realize now more than ever how important it is to read the bible always with my own two eyes, and never to
    trust blindly from another source – even a pastor or religious speaker. It’s perhaps the greatest lessen I’ve ever learned – that I must always find it in the bible for myself to know what is true.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nogster78 Nicholas Miller

      Lisa,

      I too stumbled across this subject through a very divine path. I have been struggling with my father’s recent suicide and I too asked myself why god has given me something more than I feel I can handle. I asked myself how I could handle anything more? This theological discussion has brought some much needed comfort to my heart.

    • Sheila

      Amen Lisa! God holds us accountable for knowing His Word for ourselves.

  • Krista

    I always heard it as God will not give you more than you can handle with His help. As in we won’t be able to deal with it unless we have Him and His help. And I think this is true

    • Vivian Oberon

      And how do you get this magic help? Ask sincerely for him to come in to your heart? Ask Him to forgive all your sins and really mean it? Say you that love (sincerely) Jesus Christ and believe in him? Read the bible and fellowship make new Christian friends? Do your absolute best to help others and follow the golden rule? I’ve done all that and got nothing but more suffering. I’m talking serious physical, unbearable pain and suffering, every day. I’ve got what happened to Job, for decades and no end in sight. And I’ve struggled on, talking to Christ, praying. trying to have faith. So, with respect, what did I do wrong? I now have more than I can bear and have for several months, though I’ve been ill and in pain for many, many years. There is no help anywhere. I want to die and that’s it. Maybe God’ll help with that so I don’t have to do it myself.

      • Carmen Elaine Lindsley

        There seems to be one thing that is missing. Your focus is on the pain. You need to immerse yourself in God’s Love and the love of your Christian friends. Focus on the love, and you will start to heal. Another thing to do is to put it into perspective. Your pain is just a part of all of the pain that is being experienced by all of the people and animals in the world. Try helping other needy people in pain and watch your heart fill up with love for them, as you become the instrument to remove their pain. You can volunteer at an orphanage or with the special olympics, help out at a soup kitchen or a nursing home… or help animals at a sanctuary or humane society. This is coming from me, a person who had severe asthma (very painful) for a large chunk of my life, plus lots of things causing emotional pain (severe bullying). I love you and so does God! :)

        • Byron Mustard

          Obviously you have never really suffered severe pain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Titanium.Cal Cal Murphy

    While you may think this off topic, it really isn’t. G-d says He allows tempters to come into society as a test. Note:

    Deut. 13: 1-4 All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it. If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams–and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee–saying: ‘Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them’; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams; for HaShem your G-d putteth you to proof, to know whether ye do love HaShem your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.

    G-d does test us so He can “…to know whether you love…your G-d…”

    Otherwise, great article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.eckel.39 Mary Eckel

    Thank you for a lucid expose of these false teachings. I once spent a horrific night trying to convince a friend not to kill herself. She thought she had committed an unforgivable sin by feeling despair that she would ever be delivered from a terrible mental illness. These plausible heresies can kill. On the flip side, the true message of these scriptures brings infinite hope, because they put God back in control!

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  • Justin

    This is something that has really been bothering me that I have been trying to explain to a lot of people, this is how I have felt for sometime with the misunderstanding and telling people that there are some things that I honestly don’t know if God is going to fix. I have felt like I have been hit with more than I can handle at times. I have lost hope, yet I still believe so much. You have proven a point that has been weighing down on my heart for some time, it’s like you just explained what I have been trying to tell people and you hit it straight in the bulls eye.

  • Joe

    I think it is funny in all your examples they still managed to get through. Including the part with the angel. He was given the strength that he needed.

    • Brittany Lee

      Except Jesus… he didn’t make it through until he was resurrected. We won’t all be resurrected and there will be things in this life that will be more than our human bodies can bear.

  • Nathan Young

    Maybe you could bare it, but decided within yourself that you couldn’t and gave up on God before He could help you?

    1 Corinthians 10:13
    There 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.

    If it’s in the bible, it’s not lies, for God does not lie!

    I like how you use Movie Cliches to put your point across on a biblical matter……

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  • airguardwife

    If this was true, there would not be millions of people taking drugs to escape their live and reality, and the grief that everyday life spits on people daily. People reach to fine the “true” meaning of scripture and have soooooo much faith that no matter what happens, no matter what they go through, no matter how much pain they feel, they just go into denial and stuff the fact that it’s more than they can bear in fear that if they don’t they will go to hell because they didn’t “act” in the way that God says Christians should believe…..Scripture is really starting to tire me

    • Byron Mustard

      Amen!!!!!!!

  • Mamamia

    If it were true that God doesn’t put on us more than we can bear, why would we need Him? If we could bear anything and everything we would continue being our prideful selves, continuing to live in our own power…not relying on God.

    Dr. David O. Dykes has written a book entitled “That’s Not In the Bible” that covers the subject of false statements that people claim are in the Bible.

    I actually Googled this subject because someone quoted this false statement today in regard to their husband’s serious health issues. I responded by quoting Dr. Jim Denison’s faith statement= God redeems what He allows. We may not experience the redemption here on earth, it may come once we’re face to face with Him.

    • Byron Mustard

      There is one little word that is a key in your statement…and that is MAY. The truth is we do not know when or if it will occur.

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  • Amber

    This message is something that needs to be heard and emphasized all over. This message has meat, and will sustain me. I won’t forget what I read this day. And I thank the holy spirit for leading me here to this site.

  • Byron Mustard

    Hey I have often heard it stated in church services that Jesus has endured every pain, suffering that mankind has gone through. Ok so when was Christ married and more importantly WHEN DID HE GO THROUGH THE REJECTION OF DIVORCE, SINCE THERE IS NO WHERE IN THE BIBLE THAT HE DID?

    • Mamamia

      The Bible doesn’t mention grapefruit either but I’ve eaten one.

      • Byron Mustard

        Ya but did you love and put your trust in a Grapefruit?

        • Mamamia

          Byron, take my advice (I realize it’s probably not wanted) and let go of your bitterness or you will never attract another woman, if you want one. Forgive and forget, so that you can find someone that truly loves you. Stop focusing on your needs and your loss; get out in the world and focus on someone else and their needs. In the end, you will be blessed and a blessing to someone.

    • http://www.thatancientfaith.blogboss.co.uk Luke Wilson

      Well if you believe Jesus is divine and God, then he has. If you look throughout the Old Testament, God treated Israel as his bride and each time they rejected him and broke the covenant it was like divorcing themselves from God.

      Isaiah 54:5
      For your Maker is your husband,
      the Lord of hosts is his name;
      the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
      the God of the whole earth he is called.

  • Ramona

    Thank you.

  • Young Kauri

    Do you guys see God as an omniscient man in the sky or an intangible, sexless force that exists in everything from between the particles of an atom to the galaxies in the universe?

  • Kasimattie Chantel

    I think many of you are misinterpreting or reading too much into what is and/or should be understood. Although the exact quote “God does not put more on you
    than you can bear” is not in the Bible. The quote simply means that
    when your troubles are high, you lean more on Him; and He will see you
    through…therefore, giving you the strength to endure any challenge you may
    face!!! Although that particular quote is in the Bible, the following
    quotes are, and it means the same thing!!!

    Philippians 4:13 says,

    “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

    and

    Psalm 55:22 says:

    “Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”

    Come on people, don’t be so literal!! What God has for you, it is for
    you, and no one else. Please know that 2 people can read the same verse
    and get different meanings because God is speaking to them individually.
    But, if God is in you, then no, He will never put more on you than you can bear!!!

    The Bible also speaks to not allowing the Devil to get foothold over you. In the book of Ephesians 4:27-32, it says:

    27 Neither give place to the devil.

    28 Let him that stole steal no more: but
    rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good,
    that he may have to give to him that needeth.

    29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

    30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of
    redemption.

    31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

    32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

    So, if we are teaching people that it’s okay to be burdened with troubles and
    okay to wallow in self-doubt and self-pity…are we not giving in to the Devil? Be careful what you teach to people who are looking for that sign of it being okay to sustain in troubles!!! Well, I’m here to tell you that it is NOT okay to do so. I’m not saying that burdens do hurt…but, you grieve, pray to God, and move on…you ask Him for strength and guidance, and He will give you exactly what you need to get through what you are going through. If you were not able to get through it, then it would kill you…and since it did not, then this is proof that God will not put more on you than you can bear!!! So, again, God will NOT give you more than you can
    bear because if Christ is in you…then, you can conquer all things!!!

    Peace and Blessings!!!