"Half Truths: God Won't Give You More Than You Can Handle"
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Our next theme in this Lenten series is one of those you can imagine stitched onto a throw pillow, or found on a magnet at the Christian bookstore, or on a horrible poster like this…right?
But with today’s “Half Truth” on my mind last week, without even trying, I stumbled upon the story of a little two-year-old boy named William Roberts who wandered away from his family’s backyard and was found, 12 hours later, drowned, in creek near his home. It happened right in southern Indiana, in or around the little town of Borden, just this past January 22nd. Last Wednesday, March 8th, William’s father was in a car accident while he was driving his other six-year-old son, Ayden, to school. Just 9 weeks after the first tragedy, the same family lost another child. Six-year-old Ayden was pronounced dead, too, shortly after the crash.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle,” right?
And while the tragedy of the Roberts family is rare, that kind of deep sadness and struggle isn’t unique. We’ve all heard about the girls from Delphi. Many of us have been following and praying for Brody Stephens and his family. Yesterday we grieved the loss of Phil Jacoby, who died much too soon. It’s all relative, right? This can’t be about measuring the weight or the depth of one person’s burden against someone else’s. Life isn’t a CrossFit competition to see who can carry or bear or survive the greatest sorrow and still find faith – which is one thing that seems to be implied by the sentiment, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Like when one stress follows another; when one sorrow piles up on top of another; we’re supposed to just breathe deep, suck it up, and power through the heavy lifting.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Yeah right.
Such a platitude is not only – at the very least – “half true” as our series implies, but it’s also impotent, incomprehensible, and downright insensitive, if you’ve ever heard it in the midst of real, deep grief or surprising shock and stress.
Among so many other things, these Lenten days – this walk to the cross, this journey of ashes and sacrifice and crucifixion and dying – remind us that we are a people not immune to or shielded from hardship or suffering or struggle in our lives.
To the contrary, as we make our way to Calvary in these days – and in the face of well-meaning, but lame half-truths like “God won’t give you more than you can handle” – it’s worth being reminded that we are a people who claim what we call a Theology of the Cross, as a cornerstone of our theology. It’s a Lutheran spin, you might say, on what it means to do CrossFit as an exercise of faith, to take up the cross and follow Jesus. (See what I did there? Cross Fit, get it?)
To put it simply, the cross dares to remind us that sometimes life does give us more than we can handle. (Not God, mind you…God doesn’t give us pain and suffering…but the hardships that come our way are no more and no less than part of life on the planet.) And sometimes it’s too much. Sometimes it’s unfair. Sometimes it just is, more than we can or should have to handle on our own. And it’s okay to say that. I mean, Jesus himself – God’s only Son…God’s own self – was killed… utterly, completely, dead…signed, sealed and delivered into the hands of death and despair and oblivion. It was too much for Jesus – at least once – right?
So, think, if you can, about some of the hardest, most vulnerable, sad and scary times of your life… Think of some of your deepest, darkest struggles… Think about some of the greatest loss you’ve known... Most of us have had moments that were – or felt like – more than we could handle. Maybe we’re in the midst of one of those moments, even now.
When I consider all of that… When I think about that poor family down in southern Indiana, the ones who lost their little boys, whose home has likely gone from one extreme of loud and laughing, hopeful and happy life in every sense of the word, to the other extreme of quiet and confused, darkness and despair, the likes of which I hope I’ll never know, I imagine Jesus in that moment in the garden, “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” Even more, I think of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “Dear God, take this away…this sadness, this suffering, this darkness, this despair.” “It’s more than I can handle… it’s more than I can bear… it’s more than anyone should have to endure.”
But I think that’s precisely why the stories of Jesus’ suffering come our way. We’re reminded that God gets it. That even God knows what it’s like to lose a child. That God, in Jesus, knows what it’s like to feel lost, forsaken, out of luck and out of options. That Jesus came for this. Not to get us out of trouble at every turn, but to get into our trouble with us no matter what. To remind us that even our deepest pain, our greatest struggle, our darkest despair – that even death – won’t win the day.
That, yes, sometimes we do get more than we can handle, but that it doesn’t come from God. What comes from God is the victory – the empty tomb, the new life, the second chance. What comes from God is the love we know in Jesus; the love that conquers death; the love that shows up in the fellowship of believers who stand with us in our suffering; the love that endures and abides; the love that never ends.
Sometimes we do get more than we can handle. But – thanks be to God – we never get more than God can handle – on our behalf – through the death and resurrection; through the life- and love-everlasting that is ours in Jesus Christ.