by Fr. Matthew Jackson –
From the ‘smallest’ temptation to the most dramatic events, all temptation is more than fallen humanity can bear. It is only through God’s assistance that we can bear all things. God will not give us more than we can bear, but bearing our temptations requires that we turn to Him for help.
There is an article (a few of them, actually) making the rounds on social media right now which tries to make the point that the phrase “God will not give you more than you can handle” is not an accurate thing to say. Unfortunately, these articles themselves don’t quite have things right.
They refer back to the quote from 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able.” (This is where the quote ‘God will not give you more than you can handle’ originates). The point is then attempted: this verse doesn’t mean you won’t be given things that can’t be handled, only that God will not allow a temptation you can’t bear – that the verse doesn’t say anything about other experiences you may have within life. Pointing out difficult situations – Auschwitz, cancer, rape, etc. – the authors then say that these things crush people and are more than can be borne (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8-9 for their Biblical example – where Paul says they are at the *point* of breaking in order to learn to trust in God, Who then enabled them to handle their temptations).
The truth of the matter is that the Fathers of the Church understand all of the negative and evil experiences that we endure in this life to fall in that broader category of ‘temptation.’ We may have a temptation to fall into a particular sin, or we may have the temptation of cancer or some other tragedy in our lives. Following is a portion of the wonderful commentary of St. John Chrysostom (4th C) on the particular verse in question. If you are interested in engaging with the question at hand, read through the commentary, and I will make a few points at the end for our consideration.
“Then, because he terrified them, see how again he raises them up, at the same time recommending moderation; in the words, God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able. There are therefore temptations which we are not able to bear. And what are these? All, so to speak. For the ability lies in God’s gracious influence; a power which we draw down by our own will. Wherefore that you may know and see that not only those which exceed our power, but not even these which are common to man is it possible without assistance from God easily to bear, he added, But will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. For, says he, not even those moderate temptations, as I was remarking, may we bear by our own power: but even in them we require aid from Him in our warfare that we may pass through them, and until we have passed, bear them. For He gives patience and brings on a speedy release; so that in this way also the temptation becomes bearable. This he covertly intimates, saying, will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it: and all things he refers to Him.” – St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on First Corinthians
It is very important that St. John points out to us that all temptation, everything evil we encounter, is too much for us to bear. From the ‘smallest’ temptation to the most dramatic events, all temptation is more than fallen humanity can bear. It is only through God’s assistance that we can bear all things. God will not give us more than we can bear, but bearing our temptations requires that we turn to Him for help.
God is infinitely powerful – by His grace we can endure anything. To say otherwise would be to doubt in the power of God. As St. John says, God will give us patience to endure, and also provides a way of escape, a way to come through out temptations when the time is right.
It is very easy for us to question this Biblical and Patristic teaching, mainly because we want God to moderate our temptations in a way that seems wise to us. We don’t want to bear temptation, but to already pass through it before it has even begun. We choose not to seek God in our moment of temptation, and then it becomes quickly more than we can bear. We want God’s comfort in a way we define. But God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and His foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of men (1 Cor. 1:25).
Our ‘duty’ then, should we choose to accept St. Paul’s teaching, is to seek solace from all temptation in Christ, and to accept the path He lays out for us. We accept God’s help on God’s terms, and since His might is infinite, He can equip us, by His grace, to endure all things.
HT: Priest Matthew Jackson
“There is no man who will not be grieved at the time of his chastisement; and there is not man who will not endure a bitter time, when he must drink the poison of temptations…When he has often experienced the help of God in temptations, a man also obtains strong faith.” – St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 37