“The Bible Says…” Are You Sure?
Being a pastor now for over 10 years, and having been in church since I was a boy, I have occasionally heard people make statements or repeat popular sayings and mistakenly attribute their source to the Bible. They usually preface them with, “Well, you know the Bible says…” To which, in many cases, I would think to myself or say, “Are you sure about that?”
Early on, when I was young in the faith, I would just take what was said at face value. But as I grew in the Lord Jesus and in my knowledge and understanding of the Bible, I came to discover that a few of those proverbial sayings were either not in the Scriptures at all, or are there (conceptually in some cases) but were inadvertently misread and/or severed from their literary context and thus misapplied. Although the ones I have chosen to address in this “The Bible Says…” Are You Sure? series of brief blog posts are not eternally detrimental and damning, they can and do impact to varying degrees the lives of those who accept them. Here is the first of five:
“God won’t put more on me than I can bear.”
Those of us who are listeners and supporters of urban contemporary gospel music know that this idiom was further ingrained into the minds and hearts of believers across the U.S. back in 1997 with one of the hit singles, “More Than I Can Bear,” from the high-charting billboard album God’s Property by God’s Property from Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation. “Play the song, please.” Why certainly.
Did you catch the main verse of the song? Take a look:
I’ve gone through the fire
And I’ve been through the flood
I’ve been broken into pieces
Seen lightnin’ flashin’ from above
But through it all I remember
That He loves me
And He cares
And He’ll never put more on me
Than I can bear
Before we continue, let me be absolutely clear: I am in no way disparaging Kirk Franklin (or the musical genre) or calling into question his ability to interpret Scripture and write songs accordingly. The body of his work speaks for itself. To the contrary, I am tremendously grateful to God for the gift Kirk has used in service to the church worldwide.
The question on the table is does “God won’t put more on me than I can bear” comport with Scripture? Simply put, does the Bible say that? It depends. Depends on what? Exactly. “Wait, now I am confused.” Let me explain. It depends on what the “more” is in reference to. In other words, God will never put more of what on us? The words “fire” and “flood” in the above verse can be ambiguous. But I would venture to say that most people (including myself) would understand them to mean suffering, trouble, or distress of some kind. Who would hear or read “seen lightnin’ flashin’ from above” and not think that is metaphorically speaking of the storms of life? So, if the more is related to trials, then the answer to the question of does the Bible say that would be no.
Some would push back and say that I am incorrect and would direct me to 1 Corinthians 10:13 as proof of the contrary, which says (what follows is the King James Version because that is where the language of this saying comes from): “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” But upon a closer reading, one will discover that this verse is not dealing with trials (hardships, suffering, trouble), but rather with temptations (note the word temptation – including the verb form – is mentioned three times). Yes, the Greek word for temptation is the same word used for trial, as is the case in other passages of the Bible (e.g., James 1:12-14; 1 Peter 4:12); but, according to the immediate context of 1 Corinthians chapter 10, it refers to the former (i.e., temptation: an enticement to sin) rather than to the latter (i.e. trial: an evaluation, or proving, of/for our sanctification). Essentially, what Paul is saying then is God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability by providing the way of escape, so that we will be able to bear or endure it. I would humbly submit that the focus of this verse is not on our ability to bear but on God’s ability to provide. Therefore, our success in not succumbing to temptation is contingent upon God’s ability to make a way out, not our ability to not tap out.
Furthermore, after a cursory look through the Old and New Testaments, one can’t help but to see how this saying doesn’t exactly match with what we find in the word of God. At times, when it comes to trials, God does allow or permit more to be placed on us than we can humanly bear. Consider this short list of examples of those who experienced the crushing weight of trials (even those trials that came as a direct result of obeying God’s calling on or purpose for their lives):
- The People of Israel in Egyptian bondage (Exodus 5)
- Moses leading the Israelites out of the wilderness of Sinai (Numbers 11:10-15)
- Elijah facing Jezebel’s death threat and the deplorable spiritual condition of God’s people (1 Kings 19)
- Naomi’s loss of her husband and two sons (Ruth 1)
- Job loses his property, children, and health (Job 1-2)
- David’s anguish over his enemies (Psalm 22)
- Jeremiah’s prophetic ministry (Jeremiah 15:10-21)
- Jesus incomparable agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46)
- Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Yes, God won’t ever put (in the sense of permit or allow) more on us than we can bear as it relates to temptation; but He will, at times, when it comes to trials. Because, after all, it’s not about displaying our own strength, but rather that of our God’s.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9; ESV)