In the previous blog, I re-emphasized the critical importance of having a correct doctrine of God so that we prevent errors in other areas of doctrine. In that article, I attempted to challenge the error of those who teach that God is not the author of adversity. In this article, we will look at two other errors pertaining to the doctrine of God.
II. More than we can handle
I am sure that you have heard someone say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Most people who quote this platitude typically have in mind a verse from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth…
1 Corinthians 10:13 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.
At first glance all seems well with this doctrine of God. A study of the word translated “temptation” will reveal that the word may also be translated as trial or test. Therefore, it appears that one might use the word adversity for the word temptation, though no translation that I checked did so.
Further investigation and study will reveal that the belief that God will not allow you to suffer more than you can bear is based on a misinterpretation of this verse, primarily because it is taken out of context when applied to adversity.
In his farewell message to the elders of the church of Ephesus (recorded in Acts 20), Paul said to them, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.” (Acts 20:18-19)
In this context, the word is correctly translated “trials” in the ESV, although it is translated “temptations” in the KJV. Paul here is addressing the difficulties that threatened both his ministry and his life. Clearly, he was not talking about enticement to sin.
However, when we read 1 Cor. 10:1-13, the context reveals that Paul is referring very clearly to enticement to sin, even though he used the same word in verse 13 that he did in Acts 20.
From the beginning of 1 Cor. 10, Paul reminds his readers of how, even though saved and baptized and delivered from evil by God, the people of Israel continued to practice idolatry and sexual immorality. They continued to test God and to grumble against God. Paul also reminded his readers of God’s swift and awesome judgment against the people of Israel because of their sin. Paul explained that all of these things were recorded as examples to warn the people of his day that they must not yield to these same temptations.
It is after this listing of sins, and judgment, and cautions that Paul writes verse 13. Thus we may conclude that the word “temptation” in this context means just that – enticement to sin – not trials and adversities. Therefore, one would be wrong to use this verse as justification for the belief that God will not put more on man than he can bear.
If you think back over your own life, you can probably recall events of your life that were so horrible, you thought you would never be able to bear up under it. That is a reality of life, and Scripture is not going to contradict reality.
However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that the word translated “temptation” in 1 Cor. 10:13 may refer both to enticement to sin as well as adversities and trials of life. Even then, this verse does not teach that God will not allow us to suffer more than we can bear.
Paul himself, along with his dedicated followers, faced such intense persecution and suffering in ministry that they despaired even of life itself.
2 Cor. 1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
What Paul realized and teaches repeatedly is that suffering and persecution and adversity are allowed by God for a purpose. Paul realized that God will readily place or allow more burden and adversity and suffering to come on you than you can bear. You may even believe that you simply cannot go on, but prefer death to the suffering.
But Paul did not stop there. He assured us, that even though God will allow more on us than we can bear, He (God) will never put more on us than He can bear.
Remember that creation is the plan of God, carried out for the purpose of accomplishing His own eternal plan. He created you and I on purpose and for a purpose that is related to the at plan. Therefore, He will never forsake us or leave us to bear the burdens and the temptations of life on our own. In fact, He will bear them on our behalf.
Once again, the psalmist confirmed this doctrine of God…
Psalms 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
III. God does not interfere
In a similar vein, I recently read a Facebook entry that went to great lengths to explain the balance between God’s sovereign power and man’s free will.
In his post, this Facebook personage wrote the following:
Most people believe that our entire life has been defined and laid out by God. Whatever happens is God’s will and was done by God. That is just not true. While God does ordain many things and calls some people to a specific life such as pastors, teachers, etc (sic) He allows life to take its course.
Such a belief as this sounds very similar to a very old form of belief known as deism, which teaches that God is the great Watchmaker who, once He had finished creation and had “wound up” the workings of the world, sat back to watch it all unwind with little or no interference in its operation.
Yet people who believe like this have not given serious devotion to the study of their Bible or to the characteristics and the purposes of God. Here is just a sampling of verses that speak to God’s sovereignty over our lives.
Jer. 10:23 I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Prov. 20:24 Man’s steps are ordered by the Lord. How then can a man understand his way?
Prov. 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
Here is a commentary on this last verse from The Pulpit Commentary…
Man meditates and prepares his plans with the utmost solicitude, but it rests with God whether he shall carry them to completion or not, and whether, if they are to be accomplished, it be done with ease or with painful labour…We all remember Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet –
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.”
The Facebook author continued his post…
It is up to us to decide what we want to become, who we marry and how we serve. God then works within the choices we make to bring about good and to teach us, develop (sic) us and bless us with all good blessings. God has not made us to be robots but a free people with a mind, emotions and intelligence. If you wait around for God to reveal the exact and only path for you, well you may starve to death before your garden bears any vegetables.
We must work at life and God will bless our efforts so that we can reach our potential and be happy.
Here is a commentary from Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament on Proverbs 16:9 that speaks to this concept of man’s will…
Man is indeed free to turn himself hither or thither, to decide on this course of conduct or on that, and is therefore responsible for it…every one of his steps is a link of a chain, neither the beginning nor the end of which he can see; while, on the other hand, God’s knowledge comprehends the beginning, middle, and end, and the wisdom of God ruling in the sphere of history, makes all human activity, the free action of man, subservient to his world-plan.
My day may have gone exactly as I planned it down to the very smallest detail, but I will never know the extent to which God managed the entire world around me to make those plans come to fruition. The only reason I made it to supper was because He did not call me home at lunch!
One of the most powerful scriptures in the Bible in reference to God’s sovereignty over the lives of man is found in Psalms 139.
Psalms 139:13 For you (God) formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Notice that verse 16 refers to “the days that were formed for me.” Who was there before the foundation of the world to form my days for me but God, the Father? What a fantastic thought! Every new day of my life may be a mystery to me, but God had the day planned for me and written in His journal before ever I was born.
Paul understood this doctrine of God’s sovereignty and expressed it as elegantly as anyone has ever done in his letter to the churches of Galatia.
Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.