Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Self-Reliance or God-Reliance

Today is the 3rd day in our 36th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are Isaiah 36-37; 1 Corinthians 10; Psalm 123.

I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people say, "The Bible says that God won't give you any more than you can handle."  

This is a nice sentiment--but (I hate to disappoint you) the Bible never says that.

It's kind of like "God helps those who help themselves," or "A stitch in time saves nine."  They sound good, so people think they're in the Bible.  Only they're not.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that God doesn't help those who help themselves.  And maybe a stitch in time saves ten or twelve, even.  But they're not in the Bible.  And while it might sound nice that God won't give you anything you can't handle, it's neither scriptural nor true.

I know a lot of people who have had situations heaped upon them, that were too much for them to handle.  People who have had breakdowns because they just couldn't take the awful reality of what was happening to them.  And the Bible is full of stories of people who had situations that they couldn't handle on their own.

So, where do people get this expression from?

I think that people are misquoting 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, which says:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Unlike the popular misquote, these verses aren't talking about devastating situations in life that are difficult to bear.  They refer to temptations that threaten our spiritual stability.  God doesn't allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, as long as we choose the way of escape that the Lord provides.  

There's an important distinction here that we have to note, besides simply the difference between difficult situations on the one hand, and temptations on the other.  The misquote refers to our own ability to handle tragedy; the actual quote speaks of God's ability to provide what we need in order to help us escape temptation.  The misquote is about self-reliance; the actual quote is about reliance on God.  When it comes to temptation, the problem is that we usually depend on self-reliance, rather than on God-reliance.  God is the One who provides the way out.  We simply need to take the path of escape that He has provided.  

Our psalm today talks about ultimate God-reliance, too.  Verse 2 says:

Behold, as the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
    to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he has mercy upon us.

A servant knows that he receives no good thing unless it comes from his master's hand.   And a maidservant completely depends on her mistress for everything she needs.  In the same way, the psalmist tells us to look upon God with an attitude of complete reliance upon His goodness and provision.

While it isn't true that God won't give you any more than you can handle, it is true that God won't give you any more than HE can handle.  He has mercy on us by helping us through difficult and devastating situations.  He has mercy on us by providing paths of escape, when temptations come our way.  Rather than relying on our own strength when tempests and temptations come, we need to depend on God, who alone is powerful enough to see us through.

*Scriptures are taken from the ESV.

No comments: