Suffering

I’ve heard it a hundred times. Maybe you have, too. God never gives you more than you can handle.

It’s quoted like a verse from the Bible, whispered in the ears of grieving parents, a mantra for those dealing with job loss, divorce, couples caring for children with cancer, recited to abandoned wives and unwrapped like a Band-Aid for those who endure layer after layer of loss.

Saying it over and over does not make it true.

If there’s any Biblical tie to the lie, it might be 1 Corinthians 10:13: “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 disconnect is that verse is about sin, not suffering.

I first heard it as a young wife trying to navigate life with a seriously ill husband and two young children. Disability checks didn’t come close to covering rent and food. I thought, really? I’m sitting in “more than I can handle.”

If it had been said to me in pre-Jesus days, I might have punched someone in the face. I knew two things for sure: God didn’t cause my husband’s illness, and I did not have the strength to carry my own burdens.

Over the next 45 years, I learned that life is hard and suffering is real. I’ve seen the brightest and best suffer and die in spite of prolonged prayer and fasting. I’ve seen terrorized parents watch over babies born far too early and adult children nurse elderly parents fading as fast as summer flowers.

This year, COVID-19 killed millions of people around the world. We continue to hear about suffering in India, Uganda, Indonesia—places there is little help for those who are suffering. People are starving in places where they literally earn their daily bread. Borders continue to close. There is no quick remedy for the anxiety, hopelessness, depression and fear that skyrocketed during COVID-19.

Sometimes there’s no way to figure it all out. The truth is, God allows more than we can handle by ourselves. But it’s also true that He never gives more than He can handle.

For several years, young widows came to my house for dinner. Life sucker-punched them as they buried hopes and dreams. They navigate lives they never chose. But as we gathered together, the words I heard most often were, “God is good.”

In dealing with more-than-I-can-handle life every day, they lean on God more. When He’s all they have, they learn that He is all they need.

I’ve seen unspeakable loss. A few years ago, a young pastor from northern India stayed with us. He was fearless in taking the Gospel to remote villages that had never heard of Jesus. He received no salary and had no sending church. He and his young wife had taken in six orphans who needed a family. They adopted newborn twins no one wanted.

We were getting groceries when his wife called and said one of the twins was sick. They didn’t have a car or motorbike, so he told her to take a bus to the nearest hospital. Throughout the evening, she went from hospital to hospital, but no doctors were on duty because of a Hindu holiday. When the baby died that night, she took his lifeless body home on a bus. Unimaginable pain and suffering.

The next morning, the pastor talked of being angry with God that he was not home to care for his wife and baby. Yet a month later, he told us that loss was opening doors in villages long closed to the Gospel.

The truth is, God does give us more than we can handle. Not to turn our world upside down. Not to make us angry. Not to force us to figure it all out. Not as punishment. When we sit in ruins, we can lean on God who raised the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9). He reaches us in our despair and holds us in our pain. He promises to never leave us or forsake us.

You see, suffering is never the end of the story.

In the moments we feel as if our world has collapsed, we hold on to a Savior who was overwhelmed to the point of death as He faced the cross. He suffers with us. In those moments, we learn that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture …. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:34-39 MSG).