"God Never Gives You
More Than You Can Handle"
Dumb things people say about God could fill a book, or two, or three.
How do I know what people say is dumb? I don’t as a biblical scholar or on an extra-personal level. However, I am a rather practical person in most respects and I think of God as a rather practical God in most respects. That’s why I believe people say dumb things about God. I have what I call a relationship with God; however, it’s not the kind that born-againers talk about when they say “personal relationship,” like they have a BFF thing going with Jesus and He’s directing their lives as if He’s sitting in the passenger seat of the car and saying “Slow down, speed up, get in the far-left lane, now get ready to turn into the CVS parking lot.” I don’t believe God has such a hyper-focus on my life or anyone else’s.
It seems to me that if you’re God you probably have a lot more important things to do in the universe than micromanaging whether someone’s life is best served by moving to Omaha rather than Ontario. Not that I don’t believe in a powerful God, I do. And I do in spite of some of the dumb things people say when they are trying to make sense of events that make no sense.
Dumb thing number one, I read a few weeks ago in response to a friend facing a health crisis with their child, and it’s been festering in my psyche ever since:
“God never gives you more than you can handle.”
I hate that saying. In the context of a God who reigns over the universe, passing out the good cards and the “bad” cards, God gives many people much more than they can handle, every day, all over the world.
This blithe comment bugs me for other reasons. This statement is almost always said to someone in the process of trying to handle a serious challenge. By serious, I mean tragic or frightening, maybe death or the looming spectre of death. Maybe that challenge means a loved one has been injured or is facing a dreadful disease. Maybe someone is facing persecution for his or her religious beliefs. Maybe an earthquake or tornado destroyed every possession they own. Maybe a tsunami swept away everything and everyone they cherish. Maybe a doctor just broke the news their child has leukemia or their spouse needs a heart transplant.
When someone is in the midst of a crisis, they need a life preserver given to them with the most kindness and compassion the giver can muster. Saying “God never gives you more than you can handle,” even though it comes with fine intentions, borders on cruelty in my opinion.
When someone is in a crisis and they are told that well-meaning, albeit misguided “God never gives you more than you can handle,” I wonder if they respond the same way I do—at least in my mind; I’m not rude enough to retort what I really think: “What? I’m supposed to handle this because you say God’s not going to push me beyond my endurance? Let me tell you, I am beyond endurance. I am scared out of my wits. I am tired. I feel alone. I am trembling in fear and knee-capped. And now I must face the prospect that a loving God gave this to me? And because I’m still standing, there might be more to handle? And, I also have to hear you say that God has not given me “more than [I] can handle? I'm still here, so is there something more I'll have to handle?"
People, believers and nonbelievers alike, get more than they can handle—all the time. Grief, desperation, despair, drug and alcohol addiction, death of someone loved and cherished, mental illness, crimes so horrid as to not even be believed are committed against people daily. And, yes, I believe it’s more than they can handle. I also believe a loving God didn’t choose to mete out those events. I would love to believe that the universe and life have order, but they don’t. Bad things happen, they just do. Ernest Hemingway said “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” “Some” are stronger, but not all.
Where does God figure in this? I believe God figures in the effort we make to mend those broken places. I believe God figures in the hand that holds the trembling hand. I believe that God figures in the home-cooked meal that arrives at one’s door when hunger prevails, but energy is gone. I believe that God figures in the doctors who work to heal the “broken places,” be they physical or emotional. I believe that God figures in the folks who look at the broken places and find what’s intact and focus on that. I believe God figures in the Christians who thump hammers in earthquake-ravished places such as Haiti, rather than thumping Bibles. I believe God figures in every smile, every hand we can reach out to help those who need us, especially at those times when we believe that we have been given more than we can handle.