On one of the last days of the Olympics last week, the US Women's 4x100 team incurred an awful gaffe at the hands of an opponent. A runner from another lane bumped into a US runner during the all-important hand-off. The US team was initially disqualified because of the bad pass, and had to wait all day for the results of an appeal. After they found the appeal had been heard and the disqualification overturned, allowing them to run independently and qualify with their time, a reporter from NBC asked the runners about their anxious wait.
"I know that God never gives us more than we can handle," said the runner, "so I was confident that it would be overturned."
The call from the judges had been an easy one after seeing the video replay, so it makes sense that they would be given their opportunity, not because God withheld giving them some troublesome news. This idea that "God will not give me more than I can handle" comes from a bad interpretation of this verse:
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.
Also commonly quoted is Romans 8:28, "that all things work out for good for those who were called according to his purpose." Notice first that the 1 Corinthians passage is about temptation, and about temptation solely, so that we know that when we are tempted, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we can resist. There is always a way out, so we have no excuse for sin. The Romans passage is in the context of our greater salvation, in fact one the best chapters on salvation and assurance of perseverance, so that in the Lord even death can result in life eternal with God. That is good, that does work out for good.
But let's not miss all the times in God's Word that people were given far more than they could handle emotionally. Joseph is an example, Job is an example - David chased by his own son and by Saul; David grieving his Son's death - Abraham was asked to kill his own Son - that is too much, far too much. They are called to faithfulness while enduring "this momentary affliction, preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor.4:17). Trusting in God amidst the storms that swirl o'er our heads is part of the Christian life, in fact, we need not forget that by following Christ we are called to suffer for him (Phil. 1; 1 Peter 3; Mt. 10:38).
There will be moments of pain beyond comprehension in this world, but it is not only helpful to know, but necessary to know, what awaits the believer who trusts in the Lord. We do not have empty suffering without ultimate answers, but weighty suffering, where we acknowledge that the very pains we feel he felt also; he suffered for our sake. It is helpful to be clear about this "more than you can handle" stuff when we sit with someone who is suffering greatly: because of the loss of a loved on, a frightening diagnosis, or a trial that threatens all that they know. We should cry with them, be a shoulder to lean on, without answer or cliche. Why did this happen? I don't know. I do know it isn't because he doesn't love you. He loves you so much he would send his own Son to incur his mighty wrath in your place. That sin and that punishment was far more than I could handle - so he took it for me.