“I Do It…”
Our son is incredibly independent. “I do it.” “Titus want to do it.” (Yes, he refers to himself in the third person). Part of our bedtime ritual is brushing his teeth. I have learned that I cannot turn the bathroom light on. If I do, he will turn the switch off only to immediately turn it back on himself. Occasionally, he will attempt to do something (“I do it”), only to realize he is not yet big enough. “Help…I need help please.”
It’s amazing how much parenting can teach you about your relationship with God. We too can be such independent individuals. In fact, in our country independence is something of a virtue. It is a mark of maturity and strength if you can go it alone. I think about the heroes in some of our movies. Often times it is portrayed as heroic if the hero takes upon himself or herself the weight of the world and lone rangers it.
Even within the church this independent individualism has crept in. We tend to think we have to have it all together and we have to handle the stuff life throws at us on our own. Besides, “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear, right?”
I Don’t Think That Scripture Means What You Think It Means…
I have heard people quote that above phrase only to follow up it up with, “This feels like more than I can bear.” I often agree with them. What they may be going through is more than a person should have to endure. The phrase “God won’t give me more than I can handle/bear” sounds true, even biblical. But, it is actually a minor distortion of 1 Corinthians 10:13. The passage reads: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
The verse is actually talking about the temptation to sin. Sin can be overcome. In Christ, we are free not to sin. There is no temptation that we are destined to succumb to. Not only that, God will not allow us to undergo more temptation than we can bear because he will provide a way out. The source of our hope in the midst of temptation is not our own, rugged independence. Rather, our hope is that God provides a way. Notice the hope embedded even in that promise. It is not a hope in our spiritual maturity or strength to handle the temptation. The hope is still ultimately rooted in God’s provision.
The consequences of brokenness and sin have introduced into God’s good creation a whole lot of things we were not created to handle. Our frames were never meant to endure the weight of the Fall. The Fall itself was humanity’s declaration of independence from God. God is life itself. Therefore, as God promised, the choice to reject God would lead to death. Not because God is arbitrary, but because God is like oxygen and rejecting God is like trying to breath without oxygen.
Our very existence was intended to be in relationship and dependence on God. The idea that God will not give you more than you can bear is rubbish. First of all, I don’t think everything we go through is something God “gives” us. As if some of the atrocities that have happened in history were from the “hand of God.” I don’t believe God’s sovereignty is so small that He has to micromanage His creation. There are things that happen that are paradoxically the result of human free will and our fallen world, while at the same time being under the ultimate authority of God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign over his creation, but there are some things we will go through that He permits while not causing.
I should also add, that He permits but does not desire. Think about how many parents watch their kids grow up and make decisions that break their hearts. Could their parents lock their kids up in a basement and prevent the exercise of their will so they are impaired from making stupid decisions? They could, but we would not deem that as love. We’d call that parent an unhealthy control freak. What about the things people go through that are not related to their choices at all? Again, what kind of parent would never let their child go to school in order to protect them from the potential of being hurt by other kids? God doesn’t “give” us the bad things sin is responsible for. He allows them, but does not desire them. Hence, he died on cross and subjected himself to brokenness and sin to provide resurrection hope.
Secondly, whether it is something God permits or gives us that is challenging, we were never intended to “bear it” upon ourselves. Paul explains a time when he went through something so challenging he despaired of life itself:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, emphasis added)
Paul articulates that the trial they faced was indeed “far beyond our ability to endure.” His dependence on God grew. His faith in God’s deliverance grew. His hope in future deliverance grew. But, all of it grew because he knew what he was facing was beyond his ability, therefore he had to depend on God.s
You see, the concept that God doesn’t give us more than we can bear is false because all of life is more than we, in our own power, were intended to bear. We were always intended to live in connection with the Divine life. It’s like our souls are a battery and God is the source of the charge. Disconnected from Him, we will eventually run out of juice. Jesus used the analogy of a vine and a branch. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
How This Works
I hate to admit this, but I am really bad at this dependence thing. I tend to get frustrated at God when life throws me something that is beyond my ability to control. I like control. control is comfortable and predictable. I think that is part of the process of depending on God though. Relinquishing control. It is a process, and one that I am continuing to have to grow in. The sooner we can accept our complete inability to control the outcome of things the better. I know we can use common sense and responsible planning. We still need to do our part in this life. But, we need to know where our part ends and God’s begins.
So, relinquishing control would be step one. Step two would be learning to depend on God. I think this looks like soaking up some of His promises in His Word and praying about everything. Paul wrote that we should “…not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). So, practically speaking, this means I am praying about a car situation we are facing. We are doing our part to get one of our cars looked at, and the one I just rear-ended someone with replaced. We are praying that God provides what we need. He’s already answered part of our prayer by opening and closing doors clearly enough that we feel protected from making a foolish decision.
Some might think this silly to pray about car decisions. Does God really care about that? Peter wrote that we can cast all of our cares on God because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and the above passage from Paul said to pray about “every situation.” Decisions about vehicles are a big deal for us because we’ve made some foolish purchases in the past. We don’t have the extra income to make foolish purchases. So, we pray about it.
This is a small example compared to some of the stuff I know other people are going through. I know that. I know some people who are facing frightening health issues. I know some people who have overwhelming financial struggles. I know others who have relational conflicts that are a source of significant stress. In all of these, I would not say to them, “Well, you know… God doesn’t give you more than you can bear.” Because the implication is that either they should be able to buck up and show up, or they are spiritually weak. Neither is true. I would say to them, “I don’t understand, but I know God cares about what you are going through, and the only way you can get through this is to depend on Him. For that, we can start by praying. Can I pray with you?”
Because the truth is, not only were we never intended to bear or handle this life apart from God, we were also never intended to bear it independent of community. We were made to reflect God to one another. We were made for relationship. We were never made for rugged-I can handle it alone-individualism. God has already give you more than you can bear by giving you life. So stop trying to bear it alone.