It took me years to realize I had been duped.
While I’m fairly confident it wasn’t on purpose, this catchy Christian cliche, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” had butted against my reality for seemingly my whole life. But professing Christians said it, so it must be true. Right?
It wasn’t until I started studying scripture on my own that I realized that no, what was passed off as biblical was, in fact, not. While some suspect the phrase stems from 1 Corinthians 10:3–a verse about withstanding temptation–that string of words is nowhere to be found between the covers of the Bible. And yet, when I was faced with painful adversity, the “comfort” I received sounded like this: “Malinda, you can handle it because it isn’t more than you can bear. You are so strong.”
I’ve realized this hurt in at least two ways. First, it seemed as though my feelings were inadequate and quite frankly, wrong. Second, the words passed on hidden untruths about God: God didn’t care about me because He was giving me too much; God wasn’t powerful because He wouldn’t lessen my trial to the place I could stand; God wasn’t all-knowing because He didn’t know I couldn’t handle various situations. So many lies hidden in a common cliche.
When I realized that particular phrase wasn’t true, it did something to me. Something wonderful. It began to break me free of bitterness over situations in my life that were, in fact, too much for me to handle: realizing my biological father wanted nothing to do with me and the weight of worthless-ness that came on the heels of his abandonment; the death of my younger brother, he 10, me 15; devastating heartbreak; intense bullying; medical adversity with my firstborn; miscarriages.
Undoing the damage of believing things about God that were untrue opened room in my heart to embrace the truth of the scriptures. God’s word was true! He hadn’t lied after all! He wanted me to turn to Him for help, not think I had to withstand the weight of life alone! It also made me wonder what other phrases/concepts had been passed as truth to me over the years.
For example, I still remember when I realized the common way Jeremiah 29:11 is used is altogether deceiving. It was another moment of freedom. The scripture says this: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Perhaps you’ve seen it used as home decor, maybe covered with delicate flowery vines or painted pastel. It is true, and yet it is often presented as a stand-alone promise that eerily reflects the American dream. It’s said that it is America’s favorite verse, and yet used alone, without context, it brought me no peace.
My brother was a child when he died. Where was his future? Where was his hope? Either God’s Word that I had come to love and depend upon was wrong, or the common interpretation–don’t worry, nothing bad will happen, you deserve health, wealth, comfort–was. I’m well-aware bad things happen, so therein lies the answer.
In context, verse 11 falls into a section written as a letter from the Prophet Jeremiah to Jewish exiles in Babylon. False prophets had been busy, filling the exiles with false hope that their exile would be short. In fact, it wouldn’t be, and through his letter, Jeremiah told the exiles to live well in their new city, praying on its behalf and making it home. Verse 11 was used to comfort the exiles with hope during the 70 years they would be in exile–that one day, they would be free to return to Jerusalem.
For those of us clinging to the promise of a hope and future, we would do well to realize that for us, this promise is answered in Jesus Christ. It is written that all God’s promises find fulfillment in Jesus, including the promise of Jeremiah 29:11:
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus]. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22)
This is the same Jesus Christians around the world recently celebrated on Easter as Lord and Savior: crucified, dead, buried, risen, coming again. Jesus is my promise for a future and my promise for hope. I am finding healing within this promise, where I once floundered under cliche and half-truth.
Maybe you’re floundering under the weight of false hope, too, particularly during these moments of global crisis. Jesus is your promise for hope and future, too. It is one that goes well beyond current circumstances right to eternity. Beloved, repent and believe. Seek Him, find Him, and cling to your eternal hope and future–the Lord Jesus Christ.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.