Does God Give Us More Than We Can Handle? No. Sometimes life does, and when it does, people need to be God’s hands and feet and we need to help one another.
Mahabouba was a 13-year-old girl from a rural area in western Ethiopia when her life went from bad to much, much worse.
In Half the Sky, Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof tell Mahabouba’s story. She and her sister were in a desperate situation, so they ran from their village to a town and worked as maids in exchange for room and board. A neighbor told her that he could find better work for her. Instead, he sold her to a 60-year-old man.
Mahabouba’s life was worse than before. She tried to run away many times but would get caught and face serious retribution each time.
Mahabouba’s Troubles Worsen
Soon, Mahabouba was pregnant. When she was seven months pregnant, she managed to escape. Except, now she had nothing and no one to help her. When she returned to her village, almost all of her family was gone. Only an uncle remained. So, she tried to have the baby herself. The situation deteriorated even more and she unable to deliver the baby.
Left incontinent and unable to walk or stand, people in the village said she was cursed by God. Someone who was cursed could not stay in their village because the others feared that helping someone who was cursed would be sacrilegious.
Mahabouba’s uncle wanted to help her but could not stand up to the pressure of his peers. Her uncle took her outside the village and left her in a hut to be eaten by wild animals. Some villagers came and took the door off the hut to make sure the hyenas would get her.
“God never gives us more than we can handle.” Have you ever heard that? There is a gospel song using that idea in its refrain. I knew a guy in college who built an entire message around that phrase, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” Except, sometimes life stacks up. Sometimes people are cruel. Sometimes, things are definitely more than we can handle.
The problem with the belief that “God never gives us more than we can handle” is when it does not work. The problem with that theology is our lived experience. Even if we never experience horrors like Mahabouba’s, many of us have had experiences that we just cannot handle.
A further problem is scripture. The Bible actively undermines the self-sufficiency in believing “God never gives us more than we can handle.” We encounter things we cannot handle all the time. When we do, we need something or someone to help us. We cannot lift ourselves up on our own.
When things are more than we can handle, God does not leave us alone to deal with it.
Jesus tells Nicodemus of life-giving birth from above in John 3. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman about water springing up to eternal life in John 4.1-42. In John 4.46-54, Jesus gives life to the official’s son.[i]
John shows God as interested in our lives. God does not leave us alone to figure things out. Through the Holy Spirit, God continues to be an active participant in our lives. This story about the official’s son fits into a larger picture of who Jesus is.
John shares “seven great wonders of Jesus.” In all of these, Jesus bears witness to himself.[ii]Nowhere does he say, “You’re good. You got this. You don’t need me.”
How does Jesus transform us for action? How does Jesus call us to be participants in God’s work? When we see people, like the official with the sick son in John 4, or a teenager like Mahabouba, we can be Jesus to them. We can be transformed and follow the loving kindness Jesus demonstrated for all who came across his path.
To find out how Mahabouba’s story ended, come back tomorrow.
[i]Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, ed. David N. Freedman, The Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 344.
[ii]Edward Schillebeeckx, Christ: The Christian Experience in the Modern World, trans. John Bowden (London: SCM Press, 1980), 375.