My own childhood was not troubled by the loss of a parent, but I recall as a teenager reading the Bible and coming across a couple of verses that seemed to say much the same thing as that cliché. One was 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God … will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” The other was Romans 8:28, found in our scriptures for today. It testifies: “all things work together for good.”
Those verses puzzled me and I know they have troubled many over the ages. Did the first mean that God threw up a kind of shield around Christians so that no matter what happened ― temptation, trouble, loss, pain, etc. ― none of it was more than we could stand? Did it mean that those who seemed overwhelmed by pain or trouble or stress or grief didn’t have enough faith? Even worse, did it mean that God deliberately lets bad things happen to us just to see how much we can take?
The Romans verse seems to state the same thing more positively, but again appears to say that no matter what happens, it all comes out okay in the end.
Later, when I studied the Bible more, I realized that my interpretation of the Corinthians verse was actually a misreading of it ― a case of taking it out of context. The verses around it contain a warning from the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian Christians about behavior that exposed them to temptation. He was saying that they could not later excuse themselves by saying the temptation had been too strong to resist ― because God did provide them with a way out of the temptation. In the case of the Corinthians, that way out was to stay away from the potentially sinful situation to begin with!
But still, there is the thought in Christian communities that loving and serving God grants one a kind of immunity to being crushed beneath the heaviest of loads, and the Romans verse, which actually means that all things ultimately resolve for good, is often taken by Christians as a kind of guarantee against overwhelming burdens in the here and now.
The only kind of firm answers we get from the Bible are first, that those who in faith call upon the name of Lord are not abandoned, and second, that there is remarkable help to be found when we let others help us bear the burdens life lays on us.
In Matthew, we are told about Jesus healing a man with a withered arm. Some Pharisees objected because Jesus had done this on the Sabbath. But Matthew understood, and quoted Isaiah 42, applying it to Jesus. Here’s part of what Matthew quoted: “He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick ….” In other words, life may heap up on us, but Jesus does not add to the load of the one already struggling.
The second truth, about help coming from one another is also urged in the Bible. In Galatians Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” When others help ― and we allow them to ― there is more strength to carry the burdens life lays upon us.
Let us live life with confidence in God and the sensitivity to stand with one another amidst life’s trails.
Rev. George E. Odell is Lead Pastor, Clinton-First United Methodist Church