Before I read Job all the way thru to the end when I was in seminary, I used to find myself resonating with the ‘wisdom’ Job’s friends offered him. Their comments made good sense to me. It sounded like the wisdom and counsel dispensed by Christians everyday to those who are struggling.
And then, in OT Survey, I read Job cover to cover and discovered that, at the end, God rebukes Eliphaz and his pals “for you have not spoken of me what is right” (42:7, ESV).
One of the cliches Christians readily offer to those who sit in pain and turmoil should be tossed out with the false wisdom of Job’s friends: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
Behind this comment is a deeply embedded resistance to acknowledge the depth of pain and misery that sin has wrought in our world. And in Western societies, we have devised multiple means of keeping the misery of death and pain at arms length. We zone out the land so that the bad sections are on a certain side of the tracks, leaving us free from encountering poverty on the way to the mall. We place the dying and the mentally disabled in specialized care facilities. At citizen complaints, police scatter the homeless out of the business districts so that we can get our lattes in peace. And so it becomes easier to assume that life can’t really get that bad… God will never give me more than I can withstand.
Two presuppositions are behind this cliche. One is that we feel ultimately invincible. I can handle it. I can pull myself up by the boot straps and endure. The second presupposition is about God. We assume that His love for us guarantees our protection from evil.
God certainly does protect us. But He also afflicts us. And, often beyond the scope of our understanding, His affliction is ultimately loving.
In the opening of 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to a scene of such affliction that he and his comrades assumed they would die–“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (1.8, ESV).
God had given them more than they could handle. And Paul tells us why: “…that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead” (1.9, ESV).
God will indeed give us more than we can handle. But this is so that we may relinquish our foolish, idealistic fantasies about our own strength and ingenuity and turn instead to the only true hope we have–God, who raises the dead.
God will give us more than we can handle, but He will never give us more than He can handle….