Season 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture Romans 8:35-39
Prayer Loving and gracious One, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, our love and our life.
“Half Truths of the Bible: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”
If you haven’t been with us for the last two Sundays, we are halfway through a sermon series called “Half Truths of the Bible.” These are things that you may have heard people say as if they actually are in the Bible. You may have searched for them from time to time, wondered about them, even offered them up on occasion when you couldn’t think of anything else to say. While these sayings are not in scripture, they sure sound good from time to time.
The problems with these sayings are threefold:
- They are not anywhere in the Bible
- They are theologically problematic, in other words, they lead us to a false understanding of who God is
- They can be very harmful to individuals.
The inspiration for this series came from a little book by Adam Hamilton called “Half Truths of the Bible.” While the series finds its inspiration in this book, I have not used Hamilton’s illustrations or his text. In fact, I have not even used the same scriptures he uses. In fact, Hamilton only names 5 half-truths, while we will be engaging this series into August, and currently we will be considering 2 more than the book includes. So, if this topic interests you, you may very well wish to read the book yourselves.
Today, we are going to talk to about a comment you may have heard when you were feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Maybe you were mourning the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you have used the statement to comfort someone. The statement is “God never gives you more than you can handle.”
Let’s begin with the simple fact that nowhere in the Bible are these words used. Nowhere.
Let’s begin by looking at the first four words of the statement: “God never gives you…” These four words, right from the beginning imply that whatever struggle you are having, whatever is going wrong, or overwhelming you, causing you anxiety or grief, God gave you.
If we understand that God is a God of love, then we know that God doesn’t give us painful things to handle. God doesn’t cause your headache, give you cancer, cause your spouse to beat you, or cause your best friend to commit suicide. God doesn’t do that.
The second problem with this statement is that we all struggle with difficulty in our lives. If you haven’t, you undoubtedly will.
When I was selecting pictures for our PowerPoint this morning, I was looking for photos depicting people who were overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with work, with family, with school, with commitments. Many of the pictures were humorous. Photos of people with sticky notes all over their office, computer, forehead, you name it. However, if you have ever been truly overwhelmed, you know that there is absolutely nothing humorous about it. In fact, for some of us, it can be paralyzing.
I love the story of Mary and Martha for just this reason. Martha, I believe, is completely overwhelmed. She is trying to fulfill what she believes are the requirements of hospitality in her culture. She is trying to meet expectations that she has put on herself, not Jesus, not God. Meanwhile, Mary is mesmerized by the words of the rabbi. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus. Mary is learning. Of course, Martha feels resentful, but why? God has not given her this burden. Jesus has not given her this burden. Her culture has placed this pressure on her. She has placed this pressure on herself. Even Jesus tells her that her sister Mary has chosen “the better way.”
Our world puts so much pressure on us, and we find it so difficult to just walk away from it. Things we don’t even acknowledge ourselves.
I’m old enough to remember land line phones with answering machines attached to them. I bet you do too. If I was out of the house, I wasn’t responsible for getting back to a caller until I came home and answered the phone. We actually had some control. Today, you are expected to have your phone on you all the time. If you don’t respond to a phone call within at least an hour, something must be wrong. You must have been in an accident, or hurt on the side of the road.
Or, you’re just ignoring my call.
The truth is, there is a lot of pressure today to respond to everyone immediately, whether it is by text, email or phone. It is no wonder that 40% of adults in the United States have experienced some kind of debilitating anxiety in their lives.
Anxiety, and for that matter, depression, are not given to us by God and my experience in ministry and in life, and I bet your experience, will tell you that they are way more than we can handle. So much more that without the proper medical care they may lead to despair, stress, illness, poverty, homelessness, and even suicide.
The promise of our faith, the promise of scripture, the promise of Christ, is not that we will not have hard times. The promise of our faith is that God will be with us through it all. As Romans tells us,
that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Annie Johnson Flint knew nothing could separate her from that love. She was born in New Jersey in 1866. She lost her mother at the age of three, and her father was forced to give his children up for adoption. Her adoptive parents died before she finished high school.
Her dream was to become a teacher, but not long after she began teaching, she was diagnosed with arthritis that left her unable walk or take care of herself. She was bound to a wheelchair and lived in a sanitarium for roughly 40 years.
During that time, Annie began writing poems. Her poems were focused on helping others challenged by life. Here is one of her most famous poems.
|God hath not promised skies always blue,|
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
|God hath not promised we shall not know|
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.
|God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,|
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain, rocky and steep,
Never a river, turbid and deep.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.