Some not-quite-fully-developed thoughts on 1 Corinthians 10:13.
Somewhere between about 55 A.D. and 2009 A.D., there seems to have emerged this general idea about what Paul was trying to say to the Corinthians about certain limits made by God. Maybe you're familiar with 1 Corinthians 10:13. Maybe in the midst of tragedy, a friend has cited this verse for you, saying, "remember what the Bible says. God won't give us more than we can handle."
Does it? My NIV is pretty clear about what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here's how the NIV translation puts it:
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.I mean, sure, I guess "God won't give you more than you can handle" would seem like a comforting idea to someone who is hurting. The problem here is that this isn't truth. "Temptation" does not equal "hardships." Besides, suggesting that God won't give us more than we can handle is suggesting that God causes the hardships in our lives. (This is a complex idea; I would highly recommend Suffering and the Sovereignty of God).
I've been reading through the Old Testament...
So here's Moses out in the desert with all of these Israelites. And by all of them, I mean Moses says that the Lord has increased their number so that there are as many of them as there are stars in the sky (Deut. 1:10). In other words, here's Moses, one guy, trying to lead all of these complaining and disobedient people. He says, "You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone." He suggests that some wise and respected men should be appointed to help out with the leadership. Moses is speaking to the Israelites here. Notice how they don't respond, "Moses, man up." They say, "What you propose to do is good" (Deut. 1:14). They set up this government of sorts.
Could you imagine the president's task if there were no senators, representatives, governors, mayors, clerks?
And even in the New Testament: here's Paul, who is pretty legit. He's experienced some pretty heavy things in his life. In his first letter to the Corinthians he says God will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. If we interpret that as "God won't give you more than you can handle," then Paul's second letter wouldn't be consistent with his claim. 2 Corinthians 1:8 - "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even life itself."
Does God only give us what we can handle? Absolutely not. God is always giving us way more than we can handle. Paul has first-hand experience here of such great suffering. And it's not even like "oh yeah, what we went through was really difficult, but we made it." Paul says the great pressure was far beyond their abilities. I can't even imagine. Then Paul continues. He is facing much more than he can handle but he recognizes "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. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us." (2 Cor. 1:9-10) Wow.
I think it's really cool how all of this comes together through Scripture. Paul tells the Galatians to carry each others' burdens. If God didn't give them more than they could handle, this wouldn't be necessary, would it? Moses' burden was too heavy and God thought it good for others to help him carry it. Here's the thing, though. Paul says that even though the pressure he faced was so great, it "happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead." Over and over again Scripture says that God's power is available to those who love him: Isaiah 40:29, 31; 1 Corinthians 15:57; Psalm 29:11; Ephesians 6:10; Exodus 15:2; 2 Samuel 22:33; Philippians 4:13; 1 Peter 4:11.
How sweet is it that we serve a God who has compassion on us, whose grace is sufficient if we would look to Him rather than at ourselves. Praise God we don't have to "man up." After all, about half of us are women. :]