Why Saying, “God won’t give you more than you can bear” Is Pretty Much The Worst Comfort Advice Ever

Job and Friends

Job and Comforters

A few days ago I posted a quick, scold-y note on Facebook after reading this heart-felt and transparent piece by ESPN writer/host Jason Wilde.

In it, Wilde opens up about battling darkness and depression after he and his wife lost a baby about halfway through the pregnancy. In it, without anger or bitterness, he mentions how profoundly unhelpful it was to have well-meaning Christians (he is not one) come up to him and try to help by saying things like, “God only gives you as much as you can handle.”

On Facebook, I linked to his essay and wrote:

Fellow Christians of planet earth: Stop trying to comfort the grieving by saying “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” It’s crappy theology. And it’s not comforting. Stop. It.

I meant that. And here’s why.

The advice (falsely) positions God  as the great cosmic dispenser of misery and suffering. What’s worse, it depicts Him as carefully monitoring just how much misery and suffering we each can handle without completely collapsing under the weight, to keep Himself from over-doing it.

It encourages us to imagine Him viewing our misery capacity as some sort of dashed line at the top of a measuring cup. Should our capacity to handle heartache increase a bit . . . well, then God is surely there with an eyedropper of pain ready to add more until we’re topped off, but never to the point that it rises above the line.

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

It’s hard to count how many ways this is wrong. But let me hit a few of the highlights.

1. It misidentifies the source of evil and suffering.

We live in a fallen creation filled with fallen humans operating with the gift/power of free will. The flooded home; the miscarried pregnancy; the child lost to the drunk driver, the housewife with the swollen black eye, the stolen iPhone, and the irritable bowel  . . . all of these and an endless list of other heartaches and headaches are a result of either the one (broken creation) or the other (broken people). And of course there’s God’s raging enemy, Satan, who is actively at work in and through both.

2. God is all about healing pain, not causing it. Restoring, not destroying.

Jesus told us that if we’ve seen Him we’ve seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9) He said that He only did the things He saw the Father doing. (Jn 5:19) Thus, it’s revealing that Jesus broke up every funeral he ever came across. Healed every person who requested it. Wherever he encountered human suffering, He relieved it.

He said the thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But that He had come to provide abundant life. (Jn. 10:10)

 3. It distorts the concept of God’s sovereignty.

The sad young man from ESPN really believes God took the life of his baby. And every would-be comforter who offered up, “This was part of God’s plan,” or “He won’t give you more than you can handle,” seems to agree. “God did this to you,” they’re affirming. “But cheer up. It’s all for the best!”

One of the most common and disastrous theological concepts loose in the world is the child’s cartoon view of God’s sovereignty that suggests that God is getting exactly what He wants every second of every day in every place on planet Earth. Dear friend, He isn’t.

I wish I could link to a 4-part series of blog posts I did several years ago titled, “Tragedy: The Mother of All Bad Theology” because I addressed this topic in quite a bit of detail there. (Alas, it was lost, along with seven full years of blogging output, in a web site corruption.)

I call this a cartoon view of God’s sovereignty because it’s the way God is depicted in cartoons, Hollywood movies and sitcoms. That He is exercising direct causative or allow-ative control of everything, and can therefore justifiably be blamed for everything.

God gets blamed for a ton of horrific stuff He didn’t do. As some have heard me say on numerous occasions, Romans 8:28 does not say, “God causes all things.” It says God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called . . .”

That’s a very different proposition.

A lost, hurting, dying world is understandably reluctant to run to a God whom they believe to be the author of their deepest pain. But that’s simply not an accurate picture of who He is or why they’ve been hurt.

He is good. And He has gone to extraordinary lengths, at unspeakable personal cost, to meet us at the point of our suffering and offer healing and hope.

jesus on the cross

 

Perhaps the next time an unbeliever has his or her heart shattered by loss, a more comforting  (and more theologically sound) response might be:

“I’m so sorry that happened. How painful that must be. Let me walk through this with you. And please know that you can take that pain to a God who loves you. Because He’s not your problem. He’s your only hope for healing.”

One Final Mad Men Peeve

meditation

Before I just let it go and move on, I thought I’d point out one additional annoying, yea, even galling aspect of the way the writers of Mad Men chose to rescue Don Draper from his eight-year-long free-fall of drink, deception, and debauchery.  That is, to have him stagger into a touchy-feely retreat center built around a blend of Eastern mysticism and hippie humanism.

Here’s why that cheeses me off.

As I mentioned in the previous dissertation post, the overarching premise of the entire Mad Men series is that women were treated horribly by Neanderthal men in the years before the feminist movement. But here’s the thing.

The cultures built wholly on Eastern Mysticism—Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist religion—are some of the worst places on Earth to be a woman.

India, for example, is the headwaters of the river of hippie New Age gobbledy-goop that started flowing into our culture like the nasty Ganges in the late ’60s. Thanks Beatles.

Maharishi Beatles

Look at John—hanging on every word of the Maharishi. George has already chugged the Kool-Aid. Paul knows it’s B.S. but he’s here for the weed. Ringo wishes he was somewhere else. Anywhere else.

I currently work with or support about a half-dozen ministries that are working in India—striving mightily to make it a little less of a hellish place to be a female. Same goes for Nepal and Tibet. And China? . . .

Can you point to a single solitary woman in China with any meaningful power or authority? In government or business? Just one?

Women in DangerThe only places on the planet in which it is worse for women than societies built upon Eastern mysticism are Islamic cultures. The animistic societies of Africa aren’t a picnic for females either.

In fact, across the globe, life is best for women where Christianity has had the largest impact on the culture. The least Christian places are the most oppressive for girls and women.

The clear and indisputable testimony of History is that wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has taken root and become a pervasive influence in the creation of the culture, the lot of women has radically improved. In societies built upon Christian presuppositions—such as those in Europe, North America, and Latin America—women enjoy the most equality and highest status. This is the case even when the vast majority of the population has reverted to paganism (Hi there, Europe!)

This is no accident or coincidence.

One of the many effects of the radical, transformative revolution Jesus unleashed; and that has been spreading from East to West across the planet; is the elevation of women to a place of equality with men. And it does so without destroying the God-given distinctives and differences between the sexes.

As I mentioned, in any given month I do work for about a half-dozen organizations that are working to ameliorate a little of the suffering experienced by women and girls in India and the Far East. The needs are overwhelming precisely because Eastern religions spawn cultures that view women as livestock.

Which brings us back to the Mad Men finale . . . This is what makes free-falling Don Draper’s rescue in the arms of Eastern mysticism so . . . well, maddening.

As I noted in my previous post, the series was essentially about the oppression of women. Clearly, the writers, like most post-Christian Americans, have no understanding that if America were built upon the presuppositions of Eastern mysticism rather than those of Christianity, the country would be just another third-world hell-hole for women and girls.

In one of the final few episodes of Mad Men, an angry, unpleasant character shouts at Don that he needs to turn to Jesus.

Of course, that was actually good advice. In fact, it’s good advice for any society that cares about the rights and well-being of women and girls.

Jesus, Mary & Martha

Jesus, Mary & Martha

 

Holy Week Musings Pt. 2

Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . . and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.

–George MacLeod (1895-1991)

Holy Week Musings, Part 1—Qualifying at the Cross

Gustav Tores "Crucifixion of Jesus"

Gustav Tores “Crucifixion of Jesus”

Our oldest daughter was 26 years old a couple of months ago. But she still calls me “Daddy” from time to time, and I love that. It takes me back to those days when our three girls were small, utterly un-self-conscious, and therefore, hilarious—a source of endless entertainment.

There was a brief season of time back when she was around three and our middle daughter was just an infant, in which I’d settled a small office in a modest little one-story building in Edmond, Oklahoma. The offices in the building were all arranged on either side of a long central hallway. My office was located near the end of the hallway, toward the back of the building.

I was just launching an effort to support my family through freelance writing and things were pretty lean financially. Extraordinarily lean, actually. The best parts of the best days back then would be the times my wife would bring the girls up for a surprise visit to my drab, Spartan little work space.

I would hear the chime that indicated someone had opened the front door of the building, quickly followed by the rising sound of stumpy sneakered feet hitting carpet at a full gallop down the hallway. A few seconds later, my daughter would burst through my doorway with a giant smile, a giddy “Hi Daddy!” and body language that shouted, “I’m here! Isn’t it wonderful!”

And it was.

My sincere response was always one of delighted welcome. Outstretched arms. A hug. A gathering into the lap. A breathless request for the latest news from her world.

She was too young—as she was charging down that hallway—to have ever once considered that I might be on an important phone call, or in a bad mood, or upset at her for some act of disobedience I’d heard about earlier in the day.

Those things never entered her mind. No she approached with wild, confident abandon—and usually with a request ready on her lips. “Can we go get pizza tonight? Mommy, said it’s up to you.”

There is a thoroughly biblical, immensely powerful secret to effective prayer hidden in those treasured little moments with my first-born. Allow me to explain.

In my journey of growth and discovery as a believer, I have learned that seeing answered prayer—experiencing daily, miraculous incursions of heaven’s power into our circumstances—is a simple thing involving three spiritual principles.

Together, these three elements have revolutionized our life as a family and enriched our relationships with God in countless ways. They are:

  • The Law of Gratitude
  • The Law of Asking
  • The Law of Heart Confidence

I won’t elaborate much on the first two principles here. I will simply point out that dozens of scriptures exhort, even command, us to “ask.” And that many of those same scriptures encourage us to blend our asking with thanksgiving. Here’s just one example:

 The Lord is at hand; therefore do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:5-7)

There is extraordinary power in a grateful heart. And we must get this deep into our understandings . . . God wants us to ask!

“But doesn’t He already know what I need?” many wonder. Yes, but he commands us to ask, anyway. “You have not because you ask not . . .” James reminds us.

It is the third of these principles that too few believers understand—the principle of Heart Confidence. You’ll find it here:

 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

The testimony of scripture is that it not the neediest or the most desperate who see miraculous answers to prayer. Nor is it the most pious, or self-disciplined, or “deserving” who find heaven’s windows flying open when they speak. No, it is those who approach and ask with the most confident hearts that see mountains move.

Take in the words of James with fresh eyes:

 “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5,6)

The mystery of the power of heart confidence is embedded in the familiar words of First John 3:21,22. There we’re told that “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”

The equally valid inverse corollary of that biblical statement would be this: “If our hearts do condemn us, we have no confidence before God, and do not receive from him anything we ask . . .”

This is at once a great mystery and a liberating truth. It means that disobedience, or sin, does indeed damage our prayer effectiveness, but not for the reason we assume.

We think God disqualifies us from getting answers from Him when we sin. The truth is, we stop getting answers because sin persuades us to disqualify ourselves. How? It robs us of heart confidence—the only prerequisite to answered prayer!

This is why the enemy of our souls spends almost all of his time and energy accusing us and reminding us of all the ways in which we fall short. Satan (the accuser of the brethren) knows what many of us do not – that our heart confidence is the key to keeping the windows of heaven open so God can move his promises and provision into our lives and circumstances.

I’ve discovered that most believers’ attempts at prayer are entangled by a dozens of disqualifying thoughts:

“I’ve sinned.”

“I haven’t done enough.”

“ I haven’t followed through on that commitment.”

“I haven’t had a quiet time in weeks.”

“I screamed at my kids.”

“Other people get answers because they’re better Christians.”

 Amid this hailstorm of self-accusation and condemnation, many believers give up on even making a request of God. They tell themselves they need to get their act together and become a little more “deserving” first. Then they’ll petition God for help.

Those who do manage to make it to God’s throne slink in on their bellies, laden with guilt and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness. When their prayers prove to be ineffective, they’re not surprised.

I know this pattern because I’ve lived it. But I’ve been set free. I’ve learned that when Proverbs 4:23 warns me to “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out if flow the issues (forces) of life,” that it means I need to guard and protect my “heart confidence” because it is the key to my connection with God.

When I’m convicted of sin, I confess it (1 John 1:9), count it as covered and paid for by the blood of Jesus, and mentally re-assert my legal standing as righteous before God.

I have also worked hard to renew my mind to a wonderful truth about Christ’s work on the cross. We all know that Jesus suffered for our sins, literally having our sins laid upon Him as he was crucified. Most of us are aware that Jesus bore our sicknesses and infirmities, that we might know health and healing.

But have we ever considered the fact that Jesus suffered the ultimate in rejection by God that we might experience the acceptance He knew as the Son of God.

In his extraordinary book, The Atonement, the late Bible teacher Derek Prince wrote:

 In His final moments, Jesus was given sour wine or vinegar, which was bitter. This may have been intended to keep Him from losing consciousness. By accepting this sour wine, Jesus symbolically drained the bitter cup of rejection to its dregs. No human being has ever experienced such total rejection as Jesus experienced on the cross.

Prince built that truth into this powerful faith declaration: “Jesus suffered my rejection so I might have his acceptance.” I have purposed never again to insult the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice by approaching God on the basis of my own worthiness (or stunning lack thereof).

Yes, I still fall back into the trap of disqualifying thoughts from time to time. But I’ve learned to fight for my heart confidence. To feed it and strengthen it with God’s Word. To attack undermining, disqualifying thoughts with scriptural truth.

And I have learned to recall that picture of a three-old running full-tilt down a hallway into my delighted, open arms.

May I encourage you to do the same?

Fly to Him, child of God. Run as fast as your little feet can carry you. Know that you are accepted, loved and unspeakably welcome. Then with grateful mindfulness of all He has done for you in the past, pour out to Him your requests.

This is the secret of heart confidence. It is the secret of power in prayer.

Men: You Are Not What You Earn

Fishing

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.” (John 21:3)

Peter and friends were relieved but a little disoriented.

The sense of relief came from the knowledge that their leader—whom they’d seen arrested, beaten and crucified—was alive and had appeared to them several times. The problem was the disciples weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to do with themselves now.

Jesus had said something about “waiting,” but waiting had never been Peter’s strong suit. So, after another full day of standing around shooing flies and staring at their own sandaled feet, Peter hit the wall.

“I’m going fishing,” he muttered as he grabbed his bag and headed off in the direction of the lake. The other disciples looked at each other for a few seconds then shouted, “Dude! Hold up! We’re coming, too!”

Fishing was not a hobby for Peter and company. It was what they did . . . what they knew. It was the way they fed their families. And feeding his family while turning a tidy profit had always made Peter feel useful . . . valuable.

Like most of us, these men derived their sense of identity from what they did. And their sense of worth from the degree to which they succeeded at it.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to provide for yourself and for those who are counting on you. In fact, we are hardwired by our Creator to work, produce, build and achieve.

The problem is that from an eternal perspective, we are so much more than what we do. And what we earn is not the measure of our value as men. When we fall for the trap of measuring ourselves by our salary or bank account or car or watch, we are set up for a devastating fall through job loss or a business failure.

So what is the proper measure of your value?

The answer is: What the God of the universe paid to acquire you as a son. That price was Jesus. In good economic times or bad; employed or job hunting; your value remains the same.

You are a prince of God—loved, redeemed and called to eternal usefulness in an eternal kingdom.

 

 

God is Smarter Than We Can Imagine

Quantum Mechanics

It’s impressive to think God knows THE future.

But it’s staggering to consider that, in fact, He knows every possible VERSION of the future, driven by the moment-by-moment choices of more than 7 billion humans exercising the gift of free will.

Which reminds me that Romans 8:28 does not say, “God causes all things.” (full stop) But rather that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

There is an ocean of theological significance in the placement of that period. And comfort in knowing that whether or not those around you choose to do things God’s way or not, He has calculated the outcomes and is finding a way to do you good.

Impressive indeed.

On “A Fierce Exchange of Tracts”

For no particular reason I was reading the Wikipedia entry for the “Plymouth Brethren.” I still can’t stop laughing about one particular passage concerning an 1845 theological dispute between Brethren sect co-founders John Darby and Wills Newton:

Two years later, Darby attacked Newton over notes taken by hearers of a lecture Newton had given on the 6th Psalm. A fierce exchange of tracts followed and although Newton retracted some of his statements, he eventually left Plymouth and established another chapel in London.

Ooooh, the dreaded fierce exchange of tracts. You hate to see a dispute devolve into that. Nothing uglier.