Bad Bumper Sticker Theology

I heard it again.  At the youth retreat last weekend, no less.  It is a shame that kids get indoctrinated with the same soul-killing bumper sticker misreadings of the Bible that burden adults.

I am sad when I hear an adult say it; to hear it from a young person was downright disheartening. 

We were talking about how to deal with challenges, when one of the young people proudly parroted: “But God never gives you more than you can handle, right?”


And really just plain patronizing, if not downright mean.  Have you ever considered what “God never gives you more than you can handle” says to someone who is grieving or sick or dealing with some other challenging life situation?  “What’s wrong with you?  God wouldn’t give it to you unless God knew you could handle it.  Suck it up, don’t be a whiner  Just handle it already.”

Good thing the theology behind “God never gives you more than you can handle” is so rotten.

Leaving aside the question of whether “God gives us” situations that challenge us, the most insidious part of this supposed maxim is its focus on self-reliance rather than God-reliance.

In fact, the Bible consistently calls us away from “handling” challenges on our own and invites us to give them to God.  Scripture is replete with promises like this one:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (I Peter 5:7).

Honestly, I often get more than I can handle in this life; at least, more than I want to deal with on my own.  There are times when I am overwhelmed with too many challenges, or with singular events of such a magnitude that I need help.

This week, we’re waiting for some medical test results for my daughter . . . and some of the (prayerfully remote) possibilities are beyond my capacity to handle them on my own.  Why would I want to even try?

I thank God that I don’t have to.  Jesus died so we don’t have to handle life on our own.  

What the Bible says throughout its pages is this:

There is nothing in your life that God can’t handle.

Let’s eliminate “God never gives you more than you can handle” from our repertoire of bumper-sticker proverbs.  Instead, let’s remind those who are suffering and sick and overwhelmed that we have a God who comes along side us in our troubles, who carries us when we can’t take another step on our own.

Throw away that bumper sticker!

And let’s hold on to actual words of Scripture, like these:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us  (I Corinthians 1:8-10).

About pastordavesimpson

I'm an unexpected pastor. Why unexpected? Because no one is more surprised than me that I'm a pastor. See the "About" page on my blog for more info.
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4 Responses to Bad Bumper Sticker Theology

  1. Grant says:

    1 Corinthians 10:13, I think is the origin of what people are shortening to “God never gives you more than you can handle.” And when they go from Point A to Point B with their abbreviation, they lose the message of the original. We read there, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” In context, I presume Paul is talking not about holding up under suffering or oppression, but resisting giving into sin that we desire. Correct me if I’m wrong, Dave.


    • Exactly! I Corinthians 10:13 is one of those passages that has been “bent” to support a presupposition. If someone offers it as a basis for “God never gives you more than you can handle,” you can always paraphrase The Princess Bride: “I don’t think that verse means what you think it means.”

      I would say your interpretation of what Paul was really getting at there is right on. Thanks.


  2. Reblogged this on Sisters of Christ and commented:
    This is a post from my husband’s blog which is so important and well written. Please continue to keep our daughter and us in your prayers:


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