Summary: This misquote is usually spoken out of kindness, but it can cause great confusion and guilt. God WILL sometimes allow you to suffer more than you can bear--but that’s okay, because His grace is sufficient!
The phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is often uttered with a harsh tone of condescension, but not so with the statement, “God won’t put more on you than you can bear.”1 These words are usually spoken out of deep concern and compassion. There is no criticism implied in this statement, only kindness.
Join me down at the funeral home for a minute. Joan is standing beside the casket of her husband of 45 years. It is visitation time and friends are dropping by to share their condolences. A caring friend approaches her and hugs her and asks, “How are you doing, Joan?” Joan chokes out her response, “Not too good, Betty, I really think I’m losing it. I don’t think I’m going to be able to stand this pain. It’s just too much!”
Betty feels she needs to say something to help her friend so she says, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. I really am. Just remember, God won’t put more on you than you can bear.” Joan nods mutely. Now, Betty isn’t trying to mislead her friend. She’s just trying to encourage her to hang in there and not give up.
After Betty leaves Joan ponders those words. She thinks, “If God won’t put more on us than we can bear, then what’s wrong with me? Because I don’t think I can bear this pain.” Hours earlier she stood in her husband’s closet and when she caught a whiff of the unique fragrance of his clothes, she fell to the floor and curled into a fetal position and cried until her tear ducts were dehydrated.
No, she realizes she isn’t doing a good job of enduring this pain. She thinks she must not be very close to God, or maybe her faith is just so weak she can’t trust God enough. So, she pulls herself together to speak to the other friends. She thinks she’s doing better, but then as she’s driving home later that night, a song comes on the radio that reminds her of a special memory with Jim and suddenly she’s blubbering again. No, she’s definitely not bearing it well. So she wonders, “What’s wrong with me?”
The problem is that Betty expressed a theological maxim–she made a categorical statement about the character and nature of God. It’s like saying, “God is holy.” Or “God is love.” Or “God has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us.” All of those statements are found in the Bible. But as you search the pages of scripture, you never find the statement: God will never put more on you than you can bear.
So, I want to say to Joan, and all the other folks who have passed the breaking point, “There’s nothing wrong with you. Betty meant well, and she really cares for you, but she’s no theologian. Your pain IS more than you can endure alone. And God didn’t put it there, by the way.
One reason Bible believing Christians think the Bible says “God won’t put more on you than you can bear” is because there is a scripture that almost says that. The Bible does say in I 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 you can stand up under it.” God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. I can assure you when you are tempted to cheat, steal, commit adultery, worry, or murder, you can never say, “Sorry, God, that temptation was just more than I could endure.” God always makes a way to escape temptation. But can you say “God won’t put more temptation on you than you can bear?” No, because the Bible clearly says God never tempts us. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” (James 1:13)
So if you have a friend who struggles with lust, and he’s leaving on a business trip it is appropriate to say, “Just remember, friend, God won’t allow you to be TEMPTED beyond what you can bear, so resist the temptation!” If you ever hear anyone say they gave into temptation because it was more than they could bear, you know they’re lying.
But I’ve never heard people share this psuedo-scripture when someone is facing temptation. It’s usually quoted when someone is in the midst of painful trouble. That trouble may be in the form of emotional, physical, spiritual, or relational pain. Let’s carefully consider this question “Will you ever experience trouble, stress, or pressure that is more than you can bear?” I’d like to offer four observations about the statement, “God won’t put more on you than you can bear.”