Is It True That God Will "Only Put On Us What We Can Bear?"
This is a very common question that plagues the minds of many believers—but they usually don’t ask if it is true or not. I will answer it outright: No - because it isn’t about what “we” can handle. It is about what God’s Grace can provide for us in this life.
The statement, “God will only put on us what we can bear”, reflects several misunderstandings that are perpetuated by the “ignorance” of believers, and by the “bad theology” of some preachers.
2 Main Errors
1. God will put… - Here the issue presented is that difficult, hard, tragic, painful, overwhelming, etc. things are “sent” by God to teach us something, or to test our commitment / faithfulness to Him.
2. What “we” can handle… - The issue here is on “our ability” to stand against “the difficulties…” that God “puts” on us.
These errors are believed by many and taught almost universally. Many hold to this point of view, because it removes them from the responsibility of living a victorious faith, and dealing with the “trials that come against them (“God put them on me…”). Yet it also rewards them for their own ability to overcome (“…because He knew I could handle it/grow from it/needed it”).
Still, others live under the discouragement of these teachings—overwhelmed, depressed, and even angry that God would do this to them, for no reason that they can understand.
This is what reason and emotional reaction produce. But, it is NOT what the Bible teaches.
1. God “allows” us to encounter difficult things because we still live in a “fallen world” which is under the curse brought about by the “fall of mankind”. He does not “send” or “put” these on us.
2. God has provided mankind with the “keys” by which we can live victoriously in this “fallen world”: His “Grace” and our “Faith”.
We must adopt a Biblical understanding of the issue of trials/ tests/ and hardships. Without this, we will be influenced by the “worldly passions” and thereby live under the bondage of this age.
I cannot answer all the challenges of the “suffering theology”, nor do I want to do so. I will, instead, present the New Testament teachings of scripture that speak to this issue. I do not desire to become too technical, but it is necessary that I begin by giving you some definitions of Greek words that are used in reference to this subject. These will be of great assistance in understanding the intricate thread of scriptural truth. Sometimes, a casual reading of the Bible is not sufficient to teach us the truth God desired for us to have—after all these are His chosen words, not simply the words or opinions of men.
Basic Definitions: Keys to Understanding
These are not strictly dictionary definitions. I have applied the New Testament usage of this word to its meaning. The Bible uses certain words in specific ways that either limits or expands the basic meaning. (An overall study of the use of these words will show this meaning)
Peirazo - A trial of uncertain outcome; to try the limits of a person or a thing; an attempt to find the breaking point, the limitation of effectiveness, or the place of failure.
This is the word always used when believers are tried or tempted by the “World”, by “circumstances”, or by our enemy, Satan.
Dokimazo - To test someone or something with the expectation of their success; to prove the worth or value of a thing knowing it will pass the test; to approve someone as acceptable.
This is the test never used when referring to Satan, or the world. In reference to faith, it is always the “approving” that God desires to find in His people.
Thlipsis - Crushing pressure meant to destroy the form or substance of a thing or a person; an overwhelming weight of circumstances designed to cause failure.
This is the pressure that is exerted on the believer by the devil and the world. It is meant to bring defeat, not to produce good, or to increase value. This word is never used when referring to something sent from God (except for the “Great Tribulation”). It is usually found in conjunction with the idea of obtaining victory over the pressure, through God’s help.
Hupomone - To abide under the weight with the expectation of overcoming; the endurance that allows one to remain steadfast through a trial having certain hope in being victorious
This is the key to our ability to handle the pressures that come our way. Endurance (or as it is sometimes translated patience) is the quality that allows the believer to see the promise of God through to its fulfillment. Without it, either we will never reach the place of approval, or we will flee from the pressures the enemy uses to keep us from obtaining our hope. It may be thought of as a “time of standing in expectation”.
Pisteuo (pistis) - To believe what someone has said without any other evidence than the fact that it has been said; absolute Faith—Trust—Reliance
Faith is the decision of a person to accept what God has promised, knowing the willingness and the ability of God to fulfill his promise (His Faithfulness).
With these words in mind, let us examine some of the key scriptures on this subject.
Count It All Joy…Knowing
vs. 2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (peirazo),
vs. 3 knowing that the testing (dokimazo) of your faith (pistis) produces endurance (hupomone).
vs. 4 And let endurance (hupomone) have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
vs. 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
This is one of the classic passages dealing with this issue. I have annotated the verse to indicate the interplay of these words we are discussing..
Consider it all joy… knowing – The key to this passage is the word, “knowing”. We cannot consider it “joy” when we are “tried so as to break us” if we don’t know something that supersedes this trial. God doesn’t expect us to just shrug off trials and pressures. He knows we face these, and has given us something to bring us victory.
Encounter various trials – The word for “various / diverse” means multi-colored. Satan is a master of deceit and cunning. He brings pressures against us that are varied in intensity, source, and effect. Paul says in Eph. 6:11 that we are to, “put on the full armor of God so that we may be “enabled” to stand against all the “schemes / methods” of the devil”. Through God’s provision of “enabling power” we are equipped to stand victoriously against any assault Satan throws at us.
Let me, here, make one more thing clear. It is NOT God who sends these “trials designed to break us”. It is Satan. Look at James 1: 12–13.
vs. 12 Blessed is a man who perseveres (hupomone) under trial (from peirazo); for once he has been approved (dokimazo) -, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
vs. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted (peirazo ), "I am being tempted (peirazo ) by GOD"; for GOD cannot be tempted (peirazo ) by evil, and He Himself does not tempt (peirazo ) anyone.
It is Satan who attempts to find and exploit our limits. His purpose is to remove us from effectiveness in our Christian service and testimony. It is God who equips us to resist.
Testing of your faith - Notice that the “trials” (peirazo) come against “us”, but it is the “testing” (dokimazo) of “our faith” that brings “endurance”. Though the distinction here may not seem significant, it truly holds the “key” to our ability to stand victoriously. This is the “thing” we must know when we encounter these trials (peirazo).
It is “our faith” that is approved to stand / resist—not us! We must take ourselves out of the way. Satan wants us to face him in our strength / wisdom / ability. God has given us something else.
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
vs. 13 Above all, take the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
Also, in James 1:3 it makes reference to “your” faith. As long as we are depending on someone else to “stand” for us, we will not be building the promised endurance. Faith is a personal quality. It is “pre-approved” to bring us through the trials we face—but we must employ it.
Produces endurance – The word for “produces / generates / works” in this verse means “to work to the completion of a goal”. Endurance is the word, hupomone. Although it is sometimes translated as patience, it does not mean to idly wait for something.
The Biblical use consistently tends toward a victorious standing against the weight of something until victory is attained. It is like the athlete generating endurance by pushing against the weights during training. It is not the presence of the weights that produces the endurance, but it is in pushing them off that endurance is built. Likewise, our faith. When we use our “faith in God, His Word, His Character” against the trials designed to break us, we build endurance. It is a natural outcome: we employ our faith—we build endurance.
Let endurance have its perfect result –There is a purpose to our “going through” (and, it is not to be broken): to gain an approval of our faith which will increase our endurance, and bring victory. And, we will not just get through it—we’ll gain personal strength as we do—and we’ll also gain eternal reward.
May be perfect and complete –We will never reach God’s ultimate place of maturity in our life if we refuse to use our faith to triumph over the trials sent by the world / Satan to break us. This is illustrated by Israel’s being led through the “wilderness” in order to obtain the “promised land”. It was not God’s purpose that they would die there—that was a result of their own reluctance to take on the fight of conquest. God was “leading them through” and supplying all they needed during that time. But, many refused to learn the lesson of trusting God during difficult times (faith), and never reached the goal.
If any of you lacks wisdom … ask of God – This is not a change of subject, but a glorious insight into God’s graciousness. When we face these trials, we are often “caught off-guard”. We don’t know what to do—how to respond. God doesn’t say to us, “Well, I’m sorry, but you really should have been prepared. Too bad!” Instead, God stands ready to assist, by giving us the wisdom to apply His Word, His Grace, our faith to the situation—and He gives it liberally. Notice, He doesn’t take the problem away, He shows us what He has given us so that we can deal with it.
2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may overshadow me.
The word “sufficient” means an “overwhelming provision”. He gives us what we need to deal with the problem—not to avoid it. God’s Grace is His power/ability/provision given without merit. We receive His Grace by our faith. Therefore, God’s provision was available to Paul—he could receive it and overcome the trial by using his faith.
We Exalt In Tribulations…Knowing
Romans 5:3–5 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
vs. 4 and perseverance—approval; and approval—hope;
vs. 5 and hope does not disappoint…
Not only do we exalt in all we have in God (yea, that’s really good!)—but also for the pressures we will face—REALLY!?? That doesn’t sound like a reality or even a possibility. How can we place this in the context of Christian living? Again, it’s in the “words” that are used by Paul.
We exalt in our tribulations (the peirazo) – These are not things sent by God—they are things / trials/ pressures designed to keep us from obtaining our goal. How?
knowing that tribulation “generates” perseverance – Again, it is because we know something. This “knowledge” is essential to our ability to respond properly. Believers who “don’t know this” cannot deal with these issues as God desires. God’s Word was given to be the “standard” of our life. He gave us the Holy Spirit to lead us, teach us, and encourage us (John 14–16).
These trials (peirazo) generate / produce / work toward the goal of endurance (hupomone). This is exactly as the verse in James said. God does not intend for the pressure to “destroy” us, but if we accept it and respond to it in the proper manner, we will grow through our “resistance” of it.
And perseverance—[generates] approval – Paul does not repeat the verb in these next phrases, but following a popular Greek construction leads the reader to his conclusion (like a mathematical formula). The approval here is a form of the word, dokimazo, which in this case would be seen as merit / character / or testimony. By “staying under the pressure so as to overcome” we gain “testimony / merit”. These testimonies give us confidence, encouragement, and boldness. This is a declaration of God’s work in and through us—it gives Glory to Him. That’s why we can “boast in tribulations”.
And approval—[generates] hope –Hope for what? Hope to face even greater pressures—a bold confidence to take on “life”. Like an athlete who has set a record or overcome some seemingly impossible obstacle, we have Hope. The expectation of being able to overcome trials is a key to victorious living. But, it only comes from the testimony of realized victories. David faced the giant, Goliath, because he had the testimony of seeing God’s strength realized when he faced a lion and a bear. Those “pressures” were faced in faith—and he won! What then was a giant to the God he trusted.
Likewise, Israel should have been able to confidently face the trials of the conquest of the Land, but they did not comprehend the issue of trusting God for water, for manna, and for His daily provision right yet. They had no testimony—no confidence.
Hope does not disappoint(make ashamed) – This kind of “confident hope” does not allow us to be ashamed. The word “ashamed” means to turn the face / to see no hope or good in a thing.
When we have used our faith to stand against a trial, we don’t have to run in fear / avoid pressure / look for an escape. We can stand in confidence—we will overcome. Even if we don’t know when, or how, we know we will overcome.
God is Faithful, Who Will Not Allow…
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
No temptation (peirazo)… but such as is common – Your problem is not unique, one that is unlike any other before. God has strengthened others in your situation, and He will give you what you need, also.
God is faithful … will not allow – Here’s the key: if we are encountering the trial, then God has already determined we have the “ability” to get through it (not that we will do so, but we are “able”)
The construction of this word “will not allow” means that He won’t even let us get to the place of this problem except that He has provided what we need beforehand.
To be tempted (peirazo) beyond what you are able – God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and the gift of Faith. If we will use these “tools” we will “be able / have sufficient power” to get beyond this trial.
With the temptation (peirazo)… provide the way of escape – This is not a way to “avoid” the problem. That does not fit the context of this passage. 1 Corinthians 10 is all about God’s people looking at the testimony of Israel in the wilderness, and learning from their victories (few) and failures (many).
One of the greatest examples is regarding the Water at a place called “Mara” in Exodus 15:22–25. This account shows us that even though Israel was following God, they encountered a great problem. But, the “bitter water” was no surprise to God. He knew it was there—and He already made provision. “Beside the Water” was a Tree. God knew and placed the answer at the place they needed it. If they had not come to the bitter water, they would not have seen the tree.
The answer to the strength we need in a trial is at the place of occurrence. The “4th Man” was in the furnace. The “angel” was in the lions’ den.
So that you will be able to endure it (hupomone) - We do not gain victory by avoiding these problems, but by triumphantly standing until victorious!!
Are we looking for problems? NO! But, we are to have confidence in God’s faithfulness—in His Grace—in the power of His Might. As we encounter trials designed to break us, we trust in His word, and we see the victory.
We are “overcomers”, not because of our ability, but through Him.