Will God allow you to suffer more than you can bear?

You might have had the experience of feeling down and overwhelmed, and a well-meaning Christian friend tries to comfort you with the words – “God will not let you suffer more than you can bear”.

But is this backed by the Bible? Is this true?

Supporters of this theory usually quote 1 Corinthians 10:13 –

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

However, it’s important to note here that this verse talks specifically about temptation. It isn’t about trials, adversities, failures, setbacks and disappointments. The verse promises that if you are enticed to sin, you’ll be able to overcome that challenge. It does not promise that you’ll be able to cope with any suffering that comes your way.

For those who believe that God will not send them any suffering that they cannot bear, this can often lead to guilt, depression and shame when they find that they cannot cope with what life has inflicted on them. What if you get laid off and struggle to pay the bills, what if you lose a loved one, what if you suffer from an illness that is so painful it makes you cry? As you crumple on the ground, totally overwhelmed and someone comes up and tells you – “You can cope – God tells us that He will not give you more than you can bear”, those words can be like a kick in the gut. You either feel weak, or you may question God’s love, whether He is mad at you or has abandoned you. However, you’ll find that the idea of God not letting us suffer beyond what we can bear is not in the Bible.

If you read the Bible, particularly Paul’s teachings, you’ll find that Paul often came up with examples of suffering beyond what is humanly bearable. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul lists his sufferings in an extensive fashion:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

What a stressful life Paul had! Looking at this laundry list of trials, it looks overwhelming and Paul himself admits that he couldn’t cope. In 2 Corinthians 1 he confesses:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul describes the experience of being so overwhelmed by suffering, that it was far beyond his ability to endure. He was so weak it was like he was as powerless as a dead man.

So why does God allow suffering to overwhelm us in such a way? The clue comes in the passage above – unbearable suffering causes us to run to God, to rely on God and God alone. When we are in a situation so dire that only a miracle can rescue us, God comes to our aid and raises us from the pit of despair.

We as humans like to be independent, we like to do things our own way, in our own strength. So when storms hit you, when the burden is so great you collapse on the floor, you know you can’t do it on your own and you turn to God. This causes you to focus on the power of God, realizing that there is only one solution and God is your only hope. It’s when you stop trying to solve your problems through your own efforts, and just surrender and let go, put total faith and reliance on God, that’s when God comes and rescues you. Our weakness and our suffering reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. We cannot just hunker down and power through every situation. We need God.

When we face overwhelming suffering, we can be encouraged by the promises in Romans 8. God promises to work things out for our good, we are more than conquerers no matter how bad the situation is and nothing can separate us from His love.

So when the storms of life are drowning you, lift up your hands and cry to God to save you and watch Him lift you up above the waves!

Part of the inspiration for this post came from Ron Edmondson’s blog post at