The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


What's on your plate?

Writer revisits 'God will never give you more than you can handle'

Mary kneels at the foot of the cross, her son's lifeless body draped awkwardly across her lap. She recalls with yearning the infant who had fed at her breast, the baby she had rocked through a fever, the toddler who had squealed with joy as she bounced him on her knee. Now Jesus is all emaciated arms and legs and bloody wounds. He doesn't fit on her lap anymore. Mary turns her face to heaven shrieking in anguish.

I wouldn't want to be the one to pat her on the back and tell her, "God will never give you more than you can handle."

The cover story of The Lutheran's January 2002 issue was "Sticky theology." A variety of writers was asked to unpack such popular (bumper sticker) sayings as "It was God's will" and "Let go and let God." I was asked to tackle "God will never give you more than you can handle."

Terry L. Bowes
Terry L. Bowes
Nearly nine years later, that three-paragraph essay continues to be a top viewed story on the magazine's website nearly every month.

Why? Why does this old bromide resonate with so many people? To whom does it speak and what does it mean in 2010? I conducted a most informal survey of several people. Here are a few of their responses:

• A nonchurched friend, tapping herself on the breastbone, said: "I would like to hope that when things are at their worst he has not abandoned me."

• An international friend said: "That saying exists in some form in every culture in the world."

• A young friend replied: "What do you mean 'God will never give you more than you can handle'? How do you explain the tens of thousands of suicides in the U.S. every year?"

• My evangelical friend with a beatific smile, said: "The Lord can do anything. He is in control. The Lord is good and all-powerful."

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February issue


Embracing diversity