church bell from below

No Other Foundation

Reflections from Fr. Lawrence Farley

I forget, in the course of my long life as a Christian, how many times I have heard people assure me that “God will never give you more than you can handle”.  By this they seemed to mean that God knows my emotional limits and capabilities, and will make sure that no disaster befalls me that will tax me emotionally beyond my present strength.  Sometimes they affix a Bible verse from 1 Corinthians 10:13 to it to make their case:  “No temptation has overtaken you but such is common to man, and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it”.  I must report however, on the basis of my long life as a Christian, that the assuring notion that God will never give anyone more than they can handle is nonsense.

       I could provide examples of people who experienced more trial and disaster than they could bear, but it is hardly necessary.  Odds you that you can provide examples yourself from your own life.

       I remember attending a service in an Evangelical “praise band” type of church, and one of the hymns there asserted that because the author of the hymn served God, He would never allow him (or her) to be overwhelmed, and I recall vividly thinking, “That is a lie”. 

       More than that, it can be a dangerous lie, for when disasters engulf and overwhelm us and we find that we cannot handle it, we may be tempted to blame God and declare that He has been unfaithful to His promises.  It is fatally easy to embrace a Christianity that is little more than a supposed insurance policy against future disaster, and to imagine that the “plan” that God has for our life is that we will always be healthy, happy, materially-sufficient, serene, and at peace, living in the eye of the storm which rages throughout the world and affects everyone except the Christians.  When God lets such a person encounter the reality of life in this world with its inevitable storms and heartbreak, it is easy for the person’s faith to crumble under the onslaught.  Such persons had been taught that God had promised—promised!—that they would be immune from being overwhelmed by suffering.  How could God have lied?

In fact, I recall no such promise in the Scriptures.  St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:10 were not a blanket promise of immunity from overwhelming disaster, but (when read in context) a promise that the temptation to idolatry in Corinthian culture was such that God would provide a way of escape—the way detailed by St. Paul in the rest of that chapter, such as refusing invitations to supper if the host mentioned that the food available there had been sacrificed to idols. St. Paul never once assured anybody that God would grant immunity to disasters which would tax us beyond our emotional limits.

That is why St. Paul also shared with the Corinthians that at one time, when he came into Asia Minor, he was in fact taxed beyond his emotional limits.  He wrote, “We do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves, in order that we should not trust ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). 

Clearly Paul felt that God had given them more than they could handle.  But the reason he gave is revealing:  “that we should not trust ourselves, but in God who raises the dead”.  That is, the disaster forced Paul and his companions to look beyond their present strength to find new strength in God.  They were not granted immunity; they were granted opportunity.  God did not shield them from disaster or from being “overwhelmed” as if they were wimps.  He put them in a place where they could reach beyond themselves and become heroes, drawing upon a power that was not in them.

Paul referred to this experience later in the same letter.  He spoke of a thorn in his flesh, something painful and debilitating.  It was so discouraging that he besought the Lord three times to remove it from his life, for he felt himself overwhelmed.  What was this thorn?  I suggest that it was his experience of painful opposition and persecution, for he spoke of it in terms of “weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties” (2 Corinthians 12:10).  Paul wanted to preach the Gospel without such hindrances, so that he could have greater success and win all the more people to Christ. 

But what was the Lord’s response to his triple and repeated fervent supplication?  “My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  That is, when Paul felt himself to be weak and overwhelmed, when he hit bottom and knew that he had reached the limits of his own strength, it was then that he reached out to find more power beyond himself, in Christ.  In his own words, he found that when he was weak like this, it was then he was strong (verse 10).  

God therefore will not spare us from the disasters that are the common lot of mankind, and which proved to be the lot of His chosen vessel St. Paul also.  Sometimes He may allow disaster to strike us—whether that disaster be terminal illness, poverty, grief from our children or family, or the death of loved ones.  These things may indeed overwhelm us, and we may feel that we are burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we may be tempted to despair even of life, having the sentence of death within ourselves. 

It is then that we may remember St. Paul, and look beyond ourselves—indeed, beyond our suffering, beyond our life, beyond our death, and into the deathless joy that comes to us in the Kingdom of God and in the age to come.  It is from the Lord that we may draw our strength, and find the power to endure, and to go on, and to place one foot in front of the other.  In ourselves we are weak and overwhelmed and have the sentence of death within ourselves.  In our Lord, we can be strong, trusting in Him who even raises the dead.




Fr. Lawrence Farley

About Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.