God never gives us more than we can handle, so the saying goes.
Look straight into the eyes of a terminal cancer patient and tell him that. Tell it to the teen girl who’s in the middle of a mental breakdown. Say it to the woman who lost her child to a drunk driver. Promise it to the starving child, the homeless family, the wounded veteran and the abandoned elderly. Tell the Middle Eastern martyr, the African AIDS orphan, the Chinese dissident and the Central American refugee.
Then go tell it to Jesus. Look upon a crucifix, behold the man hanging there, and dare to say it: God never gives us more than we can handle.
Tell it to the unblemished, blameless Lamb. Promise it to the man who was betrayed, deserted, imprisoned, condemned, beaten, mocked, abused, tortured and killed. The one who literally sweat blood asking God to let his fate pass away from him. The King of the Jews who cried out, in front of his people, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The Son whose last sight was watching his mother lose her only child.
We humans are routinely dealt more than we can handle, and it’s insulting to faith, hope and charity to pretend otherwise. When we glibly respond to suffering with this phrase, what we are really saying to the sick, the poor and the broken is that if they were just a little stronger or a little more faithful, things could be different. Things could be better.
Suffering is not handed to us by God. The Lord is not “up there” doling out pain and heartache based on what he thinks will come this close to breaking us, but not quite (if we just follow him perfectly.) Instead, sickness, suffering and death are the bald facts of a broken world, a mystery mixture of original sin and permissive will that will never be solved this side of heaven. What we do know is that God gave his own Son “more than he could handle,” if handling means what we so nonchalantly imply in the modern world: bending without breaking, trusting without crying, and suffering without dying.
Jesus bent for us until he broke. He trusted, but he wept. He suffered and he died, and he would never look into our pain and whisper, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Instead, he handled more than anyone ever could or should in order to break the chains of evil. He carved a pathway out of earthly suffering with his own body and blood. And he left us an example of how to treat others who are poor in spirit. He reaches out to us and walks with us, experiencing our every pain and loving it into blessedness without ever promising it won’t be too much.
Instead, our Redeemer says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”