Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

To Those Christians Who Say, “God Doesn’t Give Us More Than We Can Handle”

Please stop. Seriously, just stop saying that.

So, when someone is going through a really hard time you’ve been known to say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” from time to time.

You mean well, I get it. You’re trying to encourage and comfort, and certainly your intent is good. Back in the day I said that as well.

When people are going through a difficult and painful life chapter, it can make those on the peripheral of a painful story deeply uncomfortable. It’s hard to watch others who are hurting, and it’s even harder knowing that we might not have any real solutions that would lessen their pain or improve their plight.

So, we “appeal to the mysterious” when all things tangible come up empty.

“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” somehow flows from the lips of the one who wants to comfort, but who subconsciously knows nothing will.

But here’s the problem: Those words aren’t actually comforting to us the way you hope or intend them to be. So here’s a few reasons why many of us who are experiencing painful life chapters would *really* like you to plllleeeeaaase stop saying this to us:

First up, this quote is a twisting of Scripture. The actual verse in reference (1 Corinthians 10:13) is actually referencing temptation to sin, and says that God will not place us in a situation where a temptation to do wrong is irresistible, but will always give us a “way of escape.” Essentially, it’s a verse that puts the responsibility for our own sinful choices on ourselves, and reminds us that none of us are locked into making a sinful decision. Instead, it’s a verse that reminds us we’re capable of not doing the things we shouldn’t do.

None of this has anything to do with the heaping, painful burdens and sadness of life.

Not even close.

Second, when you use this phrase in hard moments, it makes it sound as if all the horrible things in our life came from God. Can you pause for a moment and imagine how that might feel to us?

When you use the words “God” and “gives” in the sentence that way, what we hear is:

God gave the cancer.

God caused the car accident.

God took the child.

God sparked the fire or blew in the hurricane.

God gave you this horrible pain.

Please consider that what you’re telling us– and in the midst of our despair no less– is that the very things that make us question if we’ll wake up breathing tomorrow, are all things that God somehow did to us. Instead of being the one safe place we can turn for comfort and solace, you turn God into the ultimate source of all of our pain and sorrow.

When you say that God did this, even subtly or unintentionally, you take away the one thing so many of us desperately need– the comfort of God, and to be comforted knowing that this wasn’t God’s doing.

Think about it: if someone gave you a black eye and a busted lip, would that person be the one you’d want to seek for comfort? Um, no.

We need to know God sees our hurt, that God feels it, that God empathizes with it, and that God grieves with us. We’d like to know you do too– but we can’t experience those things in the same moment that some well-meaning person is telling us that God “gave us” this unbearable pain.

Besides conveying the subtle but destructive belief that God gave us these wounds, what I’d really like you to know is that saying, “God won’t give us more than we can handle” usually happens in a moment when it feels like what we’re facing actually is more than we can handle. This is *incredibly* invalidating in a moment when what we actually need most is to feel seen and to have our pain recognized.

For the one who has had to say a final goodbye to their own child, that painful chapter of life feels like it’s more than we can handle. For some parents, and certainly some marriages, it actually is more than what can be handled.

For the one who lost their home and every last belonging, for the one who just got the diagnosis they never imagined they’d receive, for the one who is in the darkest of nights even when the sun is beating down with a fierce heat… having the burden of those life-sucking moments dismissed by being told God isn’t giving us “more than we can handle” is pretty much dead last on the list of things we need to hear.

But like I said at the beginning, I know you mean well and your heart is in the right place. So let me offer an alternative:

Just “be” with us.

Sit. Listen. Pass a tissue.

Offer a hug. Be okay with uncomfortable silence.

And yes, you can offer encouraging words, too. Just not those words, please.

If your intention is to remind us that we’re strong, then by all means– remind us we’re strong. Remind us of the times in our life when you’ve witnessed our strength, remind us of the qualities that are good and right about us. Remind us of the things that are true about us.

Remind us that you care, and that you’re here for us– that you’re here to just “be” with us, through it all.

Remind us that we’re not alone in this dark place.

But please, just please– don’t tell us that God won’t give us more than we can handle, because those words don’t do for us what intend them to do.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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20 Responses

  1. At the beginning, I was still puzzled. Since I read your article, I have been very impressed. It has provided a lot of innovative ideas for my thesis related to Thank u. But I still have some doubts, can you help me? Thanks.

  2. I have always believed the whole “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” narrative is just like the half-assed excuses for “advice” Pat Robertson gives his minions when they try to reach out to him – just a lazy excuse to get out of doing anything about it yourself instead of offering real help. I’m very skeptical that most of the people who propagate that narrative do so for any other reasons unless they’ve been led to believe it by that group.

    1. But that is the Bible’s answer. Jesus didn’t say that the man born blind was just unlucky. Jesus said that the man was born blind to be an example of God’s power to others when he was eventually healed. God killed everyone on Passover for the same reason, and Job’s family.

  3. I have never liked the expression, “God will not put any more on you than you can handle.” If I am in the midst of a personal storm, I do not want to think that God had anything to do with my troubles. I look to God to give me hope in regards to my current situation. I pray to God to give me strength to go through my current situation. I tell God that I will share my good testimonies of love, grace and mercy to other people.

  4. I’m a deist bordering on atheist. I said this, more or less, to a grieving widow this past Saturday. Her seemingly healthy, but 80+ year old husband had passed away during the night before. She was stunned, confused, angry, etc, all perfectly normal parts of grief. She started hinting at suicide because they’ve been together since she was 16 and she relied on him completely.

    I feel that this advice was entirely appropriate because the alternative undermines the need for a god. As a deist/atheist, I default to “we as humans are strong on our own”, but Christians believe in a god, so “God’s Will be done”. If this makes Christians of a certain type uncomfortable, then their faith isn’t that strong to start with. And I find it strange for a Christian pastor to promote humanist ideology.

    Belief in Satan makes Christianity polytheistic, so yes, if you believe that God is involved in day to day events, then yes, God causes cancer and car accidents and everything in between. Of all the things the Christian God gets billed for that’s actually the one I’m most comfortable with as a deist/atheist.

    I read a Christian conservative blogger say that Jesus holds the keys of Hell. This seems appropriate in a monotheistic religion.

    1. Catherine. I am a Christian, and a ‘seeker of truth’. I have bordered on atheism myself for a very long time.. (still have such tendencies) Having said that, thank you so much for your comments. Again, I have no desire to abandon my current relationship with my deity, but you raise some incredibly interesting, and in my own estimation, valid points about polytheism. It is my conviction, as a result of your conviction, to research these points further in the best commentary of the Bible there is, which, again in my estimation, is the Bible itself. I believe this is expressly what makes people better and allows them to grow- by bringing your truth to the table, rather than bashing people over the head with interpretation and dogmatism. Thank you Catherine. May God bless you abundantly and richly.

    2. An all knowing all loving God, creates people that he knows won’t love him and then sends them to eternal hell. That is love?

  5. “until something kills you….” The love of my life is slowing fading dementia. I and she have receive a lot of support and love from people of faith and people of none, but it is clear that the “universe” or “god” simply doesn’t care. I don’t expect them to. It is but the brutal end of life. I am grateful, and I am better for having known her, but I have seen no evidence that the any supernatural being has ever helped.

    1. Have you asked God for forgiveness, and let Him come into your heart and life, and let Him know you want to be his Child? God always answers His children. It may not be the answer you want, but it is the Lord’s will. Just like a loving father on earth, God answers His children. He does know best.

  6. I have heard that aphorism (is that the right word) all my life. I’ve come to believe that in my own life a lot of the good or bad things that happen are because of some decision or other of mine. I don’t blame the devil or credit God for things as much as I used to. However, when I am going through a bad time, like my current divorce, I ask God to “hold my hand” while I’m going through the bad time. I feel like He does exactly that.

    Later on, I often realize I have learned something from whatever bad situation I was in, even if what I learned was just plain old sympathy for other people.

  7. Nice piece. I do find statements like that to be a kind of victim blaming, or a way for the person making the comment to avoid actually feeling true empathy for/with the person that is suffering. If you feel overwhelmed, then it is because you don’t have as much faith in yourself as God does. Not my problem. You just have to get over it. Definitely not a validation.

  8. Sounds like a comment like that invites the problem-of-evil debate at the worst possible time in a person’s life.

  9. When ever I hear “It’s part of God’s plan” for something undeniably terrible to happen, I point out that it’s Satan who comes to kill, steal, and destroy. Not God.

    1. Your god also does the killing. He takes personal credit for all murder in general (Deut. 32:39), and is the only agency the bible blames for the baby born to David and Bathsheba suffering horrible sickness for 7 days before finally dying. 2nd Samuel 12:15-18.

      Since the originally intended readers of the David-stories probably didn’t sign their names to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, there’s a fair probability that they could have taken “And Jehovah struck the child” (2nd Samuel 12:15) in the plain ordinary sense of Jehovah doing the killing. In Job 1, God is the mob boss who orders the killings, and Satan is the punk being paid to carry it out in a certain way. What fool would argue the mob-boss cannot be guilty because he only ordered, but didn’t commit, the hit?

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