When Life is Too Much
“Nothing will happen to you that you cannot handle.” We’ve all heard it. Perhaps we’ve said it to try to reassure others when they are going through various difficulties. There is something about that statement that sounds like it ought to be correct, but there is also something fundamentally flawed about it as it stands. Stuff does happen in our lives that is too much. Things do happen that we cannot handle. We need more.
Consider what Paul had to say about this in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “For 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…” If we stop right here, what is Paul saying? There were afflictions that burdened them excessively “beyond our strength.” Look at that again. What had happened was beyond their strength and they despaired of life. Paul couldn’t handle what was happening.
Think also about what Paul went through, as he records in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Comparing to the false apostles who were working against Paul, he says that he was in far more labors and imprisonments. He was “beaten times without number, often in danger of death.” Five times he received thirty-nine lashes from Jews. Three times he was beaten with rods. He had been stoned and left for dead. He was in shipwrecks, spent an entire day and night in the deep, was in constant danger, in hardship, sleeplessness, hungry and thirsty, cold and exposed. Additionally, his daily concern for churches and those who go astray was evident. No wonder Paul would say that he despaired even of life and that what happened to him went beyond his strength.
The question now is, what perspective about life did Paul have that enabled him to get through these horrific times? How could he say that he couldn’t handle these things when he actually survived what was he was talking about? Was he just overstating his case?
The basis of this answer goes back to 2 Corinthians 1. We stopped reading too soon. Paul said, “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor 1:8-10).
Now we know how Paul was able to handle what he could not handle. The key is that Paul could not handle it alone. He knew that those afflictions were “so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” This is consistent with what Paul taught elsewhere:
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as 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, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Cor 10:12-13)
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Paul spoke about a thorn in the flesh that he thought was keeping him back, so he implored the Lord three times to remove it. The Lord’s answer and Paul’s response was: And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)
In all these cases, Paul places the emphasis on God’s faithfulness and the need to put trust in Him so that even in weakness there may be strength. “Strength through weakness” is a consistent theme throughout Scripture, and this strength is based on God’s strength, always. This was the foundation to Paul’s ministry, and through that foundation he could say, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart…” (2 Cor 4:1). There would be difficulties, trials, and enemies of the cross, but through it all Paul would not lose heart because of his trust in God.
Thinking of God reminds us that there is more to reality than just what we can see. When our focus is on the world and our own efforts, then we will indeed be overwhelmed and realize that life can be too much, that we will be burdened excessively beyond our strength. Just remember that when you begin to feel this way, the lesson should ring clear that these things happen so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.