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Thursday, May 9, 2013

More Than You Can Handle

I heard many things about God and the Bible growing up: what God wanted from me, how I was supposed to act, and the necessity of going to church, among other things. And while my understanding of these particular concepts has changed over the years (drastically, in some cases), there are a few cases where what I heard was downright false. I don't think I would go so far as to say I was intentionally lied to, since so many of the people I knew then meant well and surely love God. Even so, there are a few points where claims were made that have no foundation in a biblical text or even within most of Christian history. This is one of those points.

Now, while this image is meant to be humorous (which, I admit, it is), it poses a serious problem. First, this is not in the Bible. The text we usually mean to reference is 1 Corinthians 10.13, which deals with the issue of temptation, not the terrible crap that happens in our lives. Second, if it were in the Bible, I firmly believe that human experience has proved otherwise. God consistently gives people more than they can handle. It seems to me that if God throws stuff at people "because they can handle it," it portrays him in a slightly sadistic light. But the other day, my brother (who had a pretty similar upbringing to my own, as it turns out) made an excellent observation: If we could handle everything, what need would we have for God? This is a valid question.

Believing God will not permit temptation beyond our capacity is most assuredly different from believing God will not give us more than we can handle. For J. M. Hicks (Yet I Will Trust Him, 1999), the question of divine permission is key to understanding God's place in a suffering world. This appears to be true both in terms of what God permits in our temptation and in our trials.

But I've had times where it was more than I could handle. Some pretty terrible things befell me in elementary school: verbal abuse from a teacher, being bullied by students as a result of that teacher, and the school administration turning a blind eye from my suffering. It was more than I could handle. And God let it happen. I wasn't tempted to curse God; in fact, I was too young to know what that was. Even so, it was so much that, at 8 years old, I was considering suicide so I couldn't hate those people any more. I had a friend who died from a heart condition at the age of 16. I've lost several great-grandparents during my life, my living grandpa has had multiple kinds of cancer, and I've finally had to think through the possibility of losing one of my parents.

My own personal sob stories aside (and I'm certain others have much more difficult tales than I), the Bible's reaction to God's actions are more than enough evidence to show how God consistently seems to let people down or put them through unspeakable things. The lament witness throughout the OT (Psalms, Job, Lamentations, sections of the Prophets) and small portions of the NT (references to the previous  shows the authors and nation of Israel to be in a position of finding themselves having been given by God more than they could handle. But even Job, when placed in a situation beyond what many of us will (hopefully) ever understand, could not turn from God.

God gives us more than we can handle. And whether we continue obstinately chanting, "God is good," or we ask, "God, why have you forsaken us?" let us not abandon the conversation with him. At least, not permanently. We may all experience times when we can no longer sing the Lord's song (Ps. 137), but a time will come when the song returns. And what a glorious day it will be when the song returns.

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