Every Christian goes through heartache. Whether it is the death of a friend or loved one, disease, persecution, or a number of other things, we all come to a point in our lives where things are difficult. It is during these low points in our lives that we may hear someone tell us, “God does not give us more than we can handle.”
This is something that I have heard before, and I know I’m not the only one. This is usually said to help a person get through the rough patch that they are in. However, it is an idea that is completely foreign to Scripture and contradicts what Christians have endured throughout history. Think about what Christians in Syria and Iraq are going through right now with the rise of ISIS. They are being forcibly removed from their homes, they are being tortured, sold as slaves, beheaded, and many other horrible atrocities are occurring. I don’t know about you, but I certainly could not handle the things they are going through.
Just look at what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10:
“4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Paul and other apostles went through a lot of bad things while spreading the gospel. As Paul notes above, he and others were beaten, imprisoned, had sleepless nights, and experienced other kinds of hardships. Yet there is more. In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 Paul says,
“8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. 9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death” (emphasis added).
Notice what Paul says here. He says that the hardships that he experienced became so bad (“far beyond our ability to endure”) that he and his companions did not want to live anymore. Why? Why would God allow Paul, and other Christians, to go through such hardship and suffering? The answer is in the second half of verse 9:
“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
Pastor and scholar Eric Bargerhuff summarizes what Paul says very well:
“He [God] will give us more than we can handle, and this for the express purpose of bringing us to the end of ourselves so that we realize our very life, breath, and sustaining power comes only from God all the time. Jesus clearly said, ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”
God gives us more than we can handle so that we will learn to trust in him, not in ourselves. So, where does the idea that God will not give us more than we can handle come from? Bargerhuff believes that it probably originates from 1 Corinthians 10:13:
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.”
The verse, however, is about temptation, not hardships like beatings or disease. God will allow troubles to come into our lives for the purpose of building faith and trust in him. He will also do this sometimes for discipline and even to bring others into the faith (God has used martyrs throughout history to bring others to salvation). So whether it is death, disease, or some other kind of hardship or suffering God will bring it into your life in order to make you more like Christ.
 Eric Bargerhuff. The Most Misused Verses in the Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2012). 94-95.
 Bargerhuff 95.