Friday Faith Talk: More than we can bear
Posted on July 19, 2013
This came up today on a friend’s Facebook page. I know you’ve heard it, too. You’re going through a profoundly difficult, unbearable situation. Maybe your life is always hard due to mental or physical health issues. Maybe you parent a special needs child or care for a special needs parent. And people come out of the woodwork, some to help, some to offer moral support, and some to say inane things that frustrate, anger, and isolate you further from the broad stream of humans not going through the terrible thing. Chief among the insipid sayings is the pseudo-pious, “Well, God won’t give you more than you can bear.”
Let me break down some of the ways this sentiment is wrong:
1. It’s a misquotation of the scripture.
2. It’s a misuse of the scripture.
3. It’s based on a view of humans as insular individuals that is fundamentally opposed to the idea of the community we are meant to be in the body of Christ, the church.
4. It’s a poor substitute for loving action.
One: Misquotation of scripture
First of all, the Christian tradition is full of people who face more than they can bear. Part of the unusual nature of Christian witness is that Christians try to be true to their beliefs even when it’s all too much to bear. What people are vaguely remembering when they “quote” the pithy, “God won’t give you more than you can bear,” is I Corinthians 10:13.
Let’s have a look:
10:13 temptatio vos non adprehendat nisi humana fidelis autem Deus qui non patietur vos temptari super id quod potestis sed faciet cum temptatione etiam proventum ut possitis sustinere
Just kidding (*mostly* I’ll get back to that in a minute).
12 So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. -I Cor. 10:12-13
In this part of the letter, Paul has been laying out examples of faithful people who screwed up big time. He’s not just telling the Corinthian Christians to watch themselves so they don’t mess up, too. He’s telling them to be humble about the grace they received and to press on faithfully together, assuring them that when their faith is tried, there will be a way out of the apparent either/or situations where both choices seem bad. God’s going to help them through. He does not say, “Hey, your kid is developmentally delayed? Yeah, that’s because God knows you’re strong.”
The only appropriate answer to that way of thinking is, “Like, wtf, God? Why would you do that? I’m weak! Cut me some slack!” But never fear. Remember, that’s not what the passage is saying anyway. In fact…
Two: Misuse of Scripture
There’s a weird thing in translating stuff into non-Southern English. If you can read the Latin passage above, you already know where I’m going with this. But in case not, grant me the license to quote you the freshly-made-up Authorized Southern Version of the key verse:
13No testing has overtaken all y’all that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let y’all be tested beyond y’all’s strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that y’all may be able to endure it.
The misuse of scripture when someone says to a sufferer, “Oh, God won’t give you more than you can bear,” is two-fold: 1) It’s not a word in season with the weary one. It’s not an inspired or edifying thing to say. It does not build up. 2) That verse you’re referencing? It’s about the whole community of Christians.
We’re talking Levar Burton in leg warmers here, not crushed, lonely person stoically bearing all that mess out of sight:
Yes, God IS faithful, and God gives so much grace that if all y’all pitch in together, y’all will get through this together.
Three: A Community, Not Individuals
You know what Christians standing alone are called? Consumers. They are a figment of the market imagination invented to sell us stuff and ideas. Christians are not supposed to be alone, nor can they be and partake fully of the faith. Even hermits have to come together to receive sacraments, and they join through the rhythms of daily prayer with all Christians everywhere.
No, the idea that Christians are meant to bear things alone is a foolish one that does not stand up to scrutiny when compared with the long history of the faith. We each struggle against the spiritual forces of wickedness in this world, but we do so precisely because we are not alone. All that banner waving, soldier of Christ talk that can get individualized and teeshirt-ized is meant to be in context of an ancient idea called (prepare yourself) recapitulation.
I’ll let you drink something caffeinated before I explain. Better? Okay. Recapitulation means to put the head back on. In Christian thinking, it refers to the way that God not only began the good work of grace by creating us and saving us in Christ, but also! set us off on a new course, one that leads to life instead of destruction. Here’s where the body metaphor so loved by the early church comes into play again. That new head that was put on humans is Christ. We were fool-headed and destructive, and now we are meant to work together in truth, love, and wisdom, guided by the Logos of God, Jesus Christ. (Logos means Word or reasoning faculty. In this case, the good sense of God, given to humans in Jesus. If you have not the sense God gave you, never fear! Jesus is sorting it, and you (with the help of the Great Y’all of the Church) can hope to get some sense after all.)
In short, Christians need each other, the whole church throughout time, all the saints, all the prayers, all the angels, and of course our leader and Head J.H. Christ, just to get by. There’s no place in faithful speech to one another for isolating talk.
Four: The Love That Acts
The Great Y’all of the Church shows itself in loving actions. If you know someone who is going through hell, don’t stand on the sidelines and make pleasantries about their heat tolerance. Go with them. Okay, so maybe you’re overwhelmed by your friend’s problems. Of course you are. Those waves of trouble can be huge! But if we make a human chain, we can keep each other afloat. (Some people even walk on water.)
If you’re tempted to say, “God won’t give you more than you can bear,” may that poisonous phrase turn to ashes in your mouth, and may you never speak it, not even to yourself. Instead, remember this: “Bear one another’s burdens.”
Here are some loving acts to try instead of saying platitudinous drivel to friends in need:
-Pray for them. A lot. Often.
-Pick up a gift certificate for them when you’re out at a restaurant.
-Fill up their gas tank.
-Help with repairs.
-Don’t judge them, no matter how much you think you’re better than them. Because you’re not, and you would fall just as easily if you tried to stand alone. (Remember the Great Y’all, and be humble.)
-If you know the medical sitch, explain to fellow people who also love your friend so they don’t have to tell the diagnosis AGAIN.
-If you can provide respite care, do so.
-If you can donate to a research fund or cause, do so.
-Call your local politicians or write them, asking for extended services in the area of your friend’s need.
-Make sure they have clothes and food and shelter.
-If almsgiving is your thing, consider direct relief through bill paying or cash.
-Love them when you see them.
-Be kind to the special needs person, even if s/he is not very likeable at that moment.
-Find appropriate ways to show love. Consult the Great Y’all.
Peace, y’all. Join me here next week for the first of a two-part Friday Faith Talk on sexual desires.