God makes many promises to his people, and thankfully he is faithful to keep his promises. There are things however that get passed around as promises of God that are in fact nothing of the sort. One of those is the idea that “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
In fairness, this idea stems from 1 Cor. 10:13 where Paul writes:
“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.”
Here Paul is eliminating the excuse that we (the sinner) might have for why we are unable to overcome the temptation in this life. We don’t sin because God caused us to, or because we had no choice as the pressure was just too great. No, with every temptation the saint is provided a way of escape and the opportunity to endure it. This is Paul’s point here as he is using Israel as an example of God’s judgment against sin and why God is perfectly just in doing so; we are indeed without excuse. This does not have anything to do with the trials and suffering in our life or this misconception that God will never allow too much difficulty in our life.
Actually, God is quite comfortable giving us much more than we can handle. In fact, this is the purpose of the law; to put such a heavy demand upon you that you are crushed under its weight and are left with no alternative but to tap out and cry “mercy.”
This is precisely what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount. He is not taking weight off the law, making it more doable, he is adding weight to the law, making it impossible. In a myriad of ways Jesus is tearing down our self-salvation projects, “you have heard that it was said…but I say to you…” And then he tops it off, to remove any doubt from what he was doing, with “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
This should cause all of us inveterate theologians of glory (to quote Gerhard Forde) to lay down our weapons (good works) and throw our hands in the air in surrender. It is in this laying down of our good works that we receive something much better: Christ’s work for us. For what the law is powerless to do, Jesus accomplishes for us. Jesus delivers what the law demands.
This idea is illustrated for us in Mark 3 where Jesus heals a crippled man, in the synagogue, on the Sabbath. Jesus recognizing that this was a trap to indict him as a law-breaker cuts through all their nonsense and calls the man forward and gives him a rather interesting command. While the pietists of the day were concerned about their cheapened law that could be accomplished with determination and sacrifice, Jesus was more concerned about the actual law that sinners are incapable of doing no matter how hard they try.
“And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘stretch out your hand.” (Mark 3:5)
Keeping the Sabbath, according to their man-made law was doable, it was hard but it was possible nevertheless. Jesus, however, gives this man an impossible command. This man’s hand was crippled and utterly useless. He could not “stretch it out” and of that, he was very aware. Jesus calls him out in front of a large group of people and asks him to do what he was incapable of accomplishing on his own. But what the law (that which accuses, in this case, his crippled hand) is powerless to do the promise of Christ delivers with no condition.
“He stretched it out, and his hand was restored”
The theologian of glory will read this and say, “see he did it!” Jesus healed him because he wanted to be healed and he was willing to “take a step of faith.” This appeals to us because we desperately want to have skin in the game, but this is not what is happening here in the least bit. This man did not need a life-coach who would give him enough belief in himself to overcome the obstacles that were getting in the way of his success. This man needed Jesus to do for him what he was incapable of doing on his own. In the same way that Lazarus was commanded “to come forth”, this man was commanded to “stretch it out.” The obedience to the command came in conjunction with the promise being delivered. The command can be heard as law (that which they were incapable of doing) or it can be heard as a promise (that which Jesus does for them — raises the dead, heals the crippled hand respectively). What the law was powerless to do, Jesus does with a word of promise.
The crippled man in Mark 3 wasn’t expecting to be healed, he wasn’t asking for it but he got it. The grace of God is always surprising, it comes to us in ways we would never expect. While the law is always expected, being told what to do or even what we cannot do is not surprising. It is Jesus’ word of comfort, hope, and forgiveness that shocks us. Shocks us out of trust in ourselves, that leads to despair, and transports us into an entirely new world where Jesus is everything for us. Does God give us more than we can handle? Absolutely! You need look no further than his commands that when understood correctly should not give you a checklist but a death sentence. A death sentence that is followed by a promise. A promise that Jesus has done for you what you could never do for yourself.