Saturday, June 6, 2015

God won't give you more than you can bear. . .

A recent question asked me on which specific Scripture this oft repeated sentiment is based.  Of course we have the promise that God will not allow temptation beyond our ability to withstand.  (No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. I Cor. 10:13 ESV)  But what about trials and troubles?  What about sorrows and struggles?  My personal least favorite expression:  God saves His greatest battles for His toughest soldiers.  Then make me weak God so my life will be easier!!

I will admit that I have always had a problem with the common expression "God is in control."  Does that mean God is causing me (allowing and sending are very fine distinctions usually lost on the hurting) to hurt, suffer, bleed, question, despair, etc.?  Evangelicals and the Reformed have taught us Lutherans to talk as if God has some grand plan for our lives in which even the painful moments are but pieces of His grand puzzle of our lives.  So it is my job to figure out the plan, follow God's leading, and rest assured that no matter how battered, bruised, or bleeding I am, God wants me to be that way. Where is the comfort in that?

In my own family in the past six months or so we have struggled through the death of two fathers, five aunts and uncles, a couple of cousins, job issues, financial set backs, car accidents, and a host of other things I will not admit here.  We have been bounced around to the point where it is a struggle most days to get out of bed.  Luther himself wrestled with such depression, weariness, doubts, and fears.  I figure I am in good company here.  But the answer lies not in God's grand plan that will make sense of all the wounds but the wounds that give healing, the death that kills death, and the eternal life which is beyond imagination in this mortal life.

I must admit that I wonder about people who find the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount comforting.  If they are a blueprint of what I must deal with as a baptized child of God, then they scare me.  I don't want to be persecuted even for righteousness sake.  I don't want people to speak all kinds of lies, slander, and whispers about me for the sake of Christ or anyone else.  I don't want to face the prospect of a choice between faithfulness that may mean death and denial that might save my butt.  Yet Jesus is blunt.  He tells us of those who will face suffering, even death, for His sake.  Even in symbolism this is not a path I relish for me or my loved ones.  No amount of confidence in God's grand plan can remove the fear and trembling in my heart at the prospect of such a life.  What about you?

We Lutherans have got to stop echoing the pious platitudes of our Evangelical cousins because that is not who we are.  We don't believe because God gives us answers to all our questions.  We believe that Christ is the answer to all that matters and we cling to Him like a lifeline when our hearts are ready to give up, our bodies ache from their wounds, and our spirits lag near despair for the troubles, trials, and tribulations heaped upon the children of God by a world at odds with God's eternal purpose, an evil enemy working at every turn to release us from the grasp of grace, and an old sinful self (the old Adam) who wants to give up and live for the moment.

Our best life is not now, our best future is not today, and our best hope is not for an answer that will make sense of it all.  This life is prelude to the real life to come (without at all diminishing this mortal life or its joys).  The future is the eternal one in which death is no more, sin is not even a memory, and no more trouble can come near us.  The hope we have is not answers but Christ, crucified for us and risen for us and our death with Him in our baptism and our new life in Him in that same baptism.

God won't give you more than you can bear but the world, the devil, and even your own sinful nature are trying to do that every day -- to get you to abandon your trust in the cross and surrender your hope in the triumph of eternal life.  In John 17 Jesus prays for His disciples and those who will believe in Him through their witness.  "Guard them..." He prays.  He knows why.  They (we) will face much tribulation, endure many trials, face many troubles... but we believe that these sufferings are brief and momentary in comparison with eternity... and we acknowledge that by these sufferings we share with Christ and in His name God is purifying us like gold is purified by fire... And we are kept by the sufficient grace of Him whose grace and mercy will not disappoint us.  Perhaps this is makes one thing clear.  Jesus does not pray for our success but for us to endure.  That ought to tell you something right there.  Not to mention His haunting question, "When the Son of Man returns will He find faith on earth?"


Unknown said...

Actually, "God will not give us more than we can bear" is a quote from the Qur'an.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Pastor Peters. Thanks

Padre Dave Poedel said...

I emphatically ehoe your statement that we must stop with the "God has a plan for your life", except that we are justified by God's grace, for the sake of Jesus' death on the Cross.

Keeping it brief, and therefore not complete, God gave us brains and the ability to choose, even if we make stupid decisions. We must deal with the temporal consequences of our sin, but the sin is also forgiven because we belong to Christ! God doesn't keep a running tally of our sins, then asking us to specifically deal with each one., Impossible! Who can remember all of his sins?

The Theology of the Cross provides us with the sanity needed to survive in this crazy world and provides the antidote to the incessant Theology of Glory that surrounds us from our Evangelical and Roman brethren.

ginnie said...

"The Theology of the Cross provides us with the sanity needed to survive in this crazy world and provides the antidote to the incessant Theology of Glory that surrounds us from our Evangelical and Roman brethren."
To that, I say "Amen."

Janis Williams said...

I like the Rod Rosenbladt translation of that last verse: "When the Son of Man returns, will he find a THOUGHT in America?" The attitude discussed is not endemic to the U.S., but the Evangelicals (and RC) here have done their best to make this malady a pandemic.

David Gray said...

I thank you that I am not like other men, evangelicals, Roman Catholics, or even like this tax collector.

Anyone who thinks the Theology of Glory can't be found in the LCMS or that the Theology of the Cross can't be found in evangelical circles (and even here and there in the Roman communion) is, I think, kidding themselves.

Kim said...

Thank you for that, David Gray.

The tone I find here is rather off-putting and lacking grace toward the family of believers outside the Lutheran scope, sadly. Perhaps it could be said that many Evangelicals or Catholics or Anglicans or ___ believe that God is sovereign and works ALL THINGS together for our good just as He states in Romans 8:28?

Anonymous said...


It's the terrible misapplication of verses like Romans 8:28. Imagine a Christian man on the other side of the globe who is forced to watch the slaughter of his family. Imagine your own daughter as the victim of rape, abuse, or some other terrible trauma. Imagine watching your infant child writhe in pain for the few short days of its hell on earth. Then in comes the happy, smiling Christian saying "all things work together for the good of those who love Him ... O ye of little faith. God won't give you more than you can handle ... why are you sad? they're in a better place!"

Certain church bodies have become known for pumping out misapplied scriptures and man-made happy-clappy slogans - all of them mocking the sufferer.

And, for the record, I find your tone off-putting - no, downright offensive - especially given the very personal details and nature of the post. Go bang your gong and crash your cymbal somewhere else.

Pastor Peters said...

It might be good to remember that suffering is spoken of as the normative character of the Christian life and not an exception as most of us tend to view it today. All this discussion presumes that the God working good for me will eventually result in my own personal victory but Scripture guarantees nothing of the sort for the Christian who is wounded by the devil or the world, wounded as a result of his own sinfulness, or wounded as a consequence of being faithful.

I mean to condemn no one but to suggest that God has both a permissive will and an active one. We are not delivered from sin or from the consequences of a world set against the purposes of God. In fact Jesus prays in John 17 NOT that His disciples be take from the world and its conflict but rather that they endure without losing faith, endure through the sufficient grace of the God whose strength is all the weak need to endure.

Anonymous said...

Of course God gives us more than we can bear. If we could bear it, we wouldn't need Him. He gives us more than we can bear so that we will rely on Him and His strength, not our own.