If you’ve ever wandered around the gift section of a Christian bookstore, Googled the most popular inspirational Instagram posts, or been #blessed with a prayer journal, you’ve probably seen slogans like this making the rounds:
And if you run in the gospel-centered (*cough*, slightly nerdy, *cough*) circles that I do, you’ve also seen people talking and writing about how this idea is 100% feel-good nonsense.
Read those articles and you get the general picture. Many of them get a little snarky, because being snarky is cool. They tell us somebody who likes to paint the world with rainbows and fluffy kitties hijacked verses like 1 Corinthians 10:13, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it,” and infused it with an upbeat, you-can-do-it mantra.
They, very correctly, point out that if we only had what we could “handle,” we wouldn’t need Jesus or faith or any of those other things that are kinda foundational to Christianity. Along with that true statement, though, I at least picked up on a tough-love, drill-sergeant mentality from that crowd. You know…
“Life is pain, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something—probably floral hand-lettered pallet art of Jeremiah 29:11 infused with essential oils. Jesus promised we would suffer for our faith. That’s right, SUFFER. So don’t you Philippians 4:8 your way out of this one. It’s about our holiness, not our happiness…so stop being so happy.”
That sort of thing.
Okay, that’s exaggerated, but you know what I mean. There’s something a little bit fun about pouring the cold water of reality and exegesis on someone’s overly-cheery, Bible-lite parade. I’ve been there, rolling my eyes at the “Never Too Much to Handle” crowd and their me-focused, repetitive worship choruses.
So…I get it. But take a look at that verse again. Especially how it starts. There might be something else we could talk about here.
“And God is faithful.”
That hit me recently, because it means that the Corinthians were doubting God’s faithfulness. When life got hard and the pull of the world felt too strong, they felt God wasn’t being fair in holding them accountable. Probably, they even felt confused and abandoned, just like many of us.
So before Paul gave them specific teaching about their specific situation (temptation), he told them something that is generally true, for all of us, in all times, and in all situations: God is faithful.
Always. No matter what. We can build all the rest of our theology on that one truth.
And guess what? That’s a very comforting thought, a rock-solid, never-changing, dare-I-say-inspirational promise, especially when you are facing what feels like a lot more than you can handle. It’s a reminder that even then, even when you’re stressed or exhausted or waking up at 3 AM every morning with the same nagging fear, even when there’s no money left in the bank account or someone you loved is no longer around or you don’t know what to do next and your prayers are met with silence…even then, God is faithful.
So yes, remind people to give Bible verses proper context. Don’t turn Christianity into a bunch of happy slogans that can’t stand up to our difficult and broken world where we’re supposed to be taking up our cross like Jesus. Talk about hard truths and passages that don’t make us feel good, because that’s not the point.
But also…don’t cling so tightly to anti-prosperity-Gospel annoyance that you start criticizing simple faith. Don’t treat Scriptures merely as texts to be interpreted and forget that they’re also promises to build our faith. Don’t become too cool for hope.
And if you’re stuck in one of those hard times, the most inspirational thing I can tell you is: God is faithful. Even if you can’t see it now where you are, you can see it in Jesus’ sacrifice and in the Bible and in the answered prayers of the past and in the thousands of tiny kindnesses around you. And, by faith, you can see it in the end of the story too.
So hold on, with me, with the Corinthians, with Christians who post hand-lettered Bible verses and the ones who post snarky satire articles making fun of them. Let’s grow in faithfulness to a faithful God.