I talked last week about the unhelpful or hurtful things people unwittingly say to grievers. Often they say the first thing that comes to mind in an awkward situation. They feel like they have to say something, so they blurt out a statement that’s supposed to be comforting, but isn’t well thought out. As a grieving mother I try to give grace, and my previous post offers some suggestions for better ways that well-meaning folks can offer comfort. https://alightformypath.com/2022/05/16/things-people-say/
There is one frequently offered phrase I didn’t include last week that stands out to me in its egregiousness. I find it haughty, overly pious, condescending, and just plain wrong. Yeah, this one gets to me in a big way.
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
There’s so much wrong with that short little sentence. When it’s said to a grieving parent it can cause confusion, guilt, and worry. “Am I not trusting God enough? Is it a sin to grieve if I know my child is in Heaven? Is there something wrong with me? Have I lost my faith? Does God hate me?” If you think that’s an over-reaction, then thankfully you have never had those words said to you when you are in the depths of despair, pain, fear, or grief.
Granted, most people don’t mean to be hurtful or condescending when they say this. And most believe they are quoting the Bible. Are they? Let’s unpack this a bit.
First off, God does not “give” us bad things. God is pure love and goodness. So, if there is God and if He loves us all the time, why do things happen that are more than our human hearts, brains, psyches, and bodies can bear? Because we live in a flawed, human world. Some really good people are born into awful lives. There is sin and temptation in the world. Satan is always looking for ways to pull us away from God, to make us believe we are too far gone this time for forgiveness. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise people on earth a life free of pain, sorrow, grief, or hardship. Things happen that we absolutely CANNOT bear.
Where does this misunderstanding come from then? Many people interpret the meaning “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” from a sentence in the middle of First Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 14 that states: “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Let’s look at the context though. Paul was writing to the members of the early church in Corinth giving them advice and encouragement in how to keep their faith. He reminds them that all mankind is subjected to temptation, but God will not allow the evil one to tempt you more than you can bear and He will provide you with a way out of temptation. Notice that Paul never says temptation comes from God. (And James 1:13 explicitly says that God does not tempt anyone.) Nor is Paul talking about bad circumstances that happen in life.
When tempted no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone . . .James 1:13
Grief is not wrong. Missing your child is not a sin. In another letter, Paul did not tell the Thessalonians that they shouldn’t grieve. He reminded them that unlike nonbelievers, we have a promise and a hope in our grief. Jesus didn’t say not to mourn. But, He did say that when we mourn, we will be blessed with comfort from God. So, when you are in despair. When your grief is overwhelming. When your faith has shrunk to the size of a mustard seed and you are barely holding on to a frayed thread on the hem of His garment, don’t let anyone heap guilt or shame on your already over-burdened heart.
God does not give us bad things. Life in this imperfect world gives us things we cannot bear or handle. Grieve, dear hurting parent. It’s not wrong. Look to God for Hope and Comfort. Give Him your mourning. He can handle it.
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