Is it true that God will not give us more than we can handle? Is it the case that we will never be brought through some trial or difficulty that exceeds our ability? It is not uncommon to hear such an assertion in Christian circles, but is it true?
In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”
God brought Paul and his companions through afflictions that were more than they could handle. They were “beyond” their strength – so much so that they despaired even of life.
But this wasn’t purposeless. Paul goes on, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (v 9)
God brought Paul and his companions through affliction beyond what they could handle (near the point of death) in order to make them rely more on Him (who raises the dead). Such an aim was clearly not that of any opponents of the Gospel, nor of the devil. This was the aim and purpose of God.
If God only brought us through things we could handle in our own strength we would never rely on Him, never grow, and never glorify Him. God will give us more than we can handle, but never more than He can handle.
Our hope is not that God will not give us more than we can handle, but that our God, who can handle it, will deliver us. This is what Paul says next, “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again.” (v 10)
But when we rely on God instead of ourselves and hope in Him to “deliver” us, what sort of deliverance should we be hoping for? That He will never let us come out worse financially? That He will never allow our relationships to break or us to be slandered? That He will never let us die from cancer or a stroke or anything else?
He can certainly deliver us from all manner of temporal affliction. He “rescued” Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:7) and Paul from persecutions at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra (2 Timothy 3:11; same Greek word in both verses as “delivered” in 2 Corinthians 1:10). But if Lot and Paul had only been delivered from those afflictions to later reject the Gospel and suffer the torment of hell, those wouldn’t ultimately have been “deliverances” but instead evidences against them of their greater guilt.
Our hope that God will deliver us from what we cannot handle is a hope like Paul’s in 2 Timothy 4:18 – that He will “rescue [us] from every evil deed and bring [us] safely into His heavenly kingdom” (again the same word as translated “deliver” in 2 Corinthians 1:10).
In other words, our hope is that God, who already “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13) will most certainly complete the good work He has begun in us and bring us finally into the everlasting enjoyment of His kingdom (Philippians 1:6). He will deliver us from our own damning unbelief and will not allow “death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [to] … separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Will God give us more than we can handle? Yes. Will He give us more than He can handle? Never. Hope, therefore, not in the minimization of your affliction but in the maximization of Christ’s exaltation – that His all-sufficiency would shine forth increasingly as your weakness relies more wholeheartedly on His strength (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).