‘Only a Sith deals in absolutes.’
This is my favourite line in the entire Star Warsfranchise. In it, George Lucas has made Obi-Wan so blind to his own self-righteousness that the character doesn’t realize that the statement he’s just preached against absolutes is itself an absolute. Pretty ironic (man, I hope Lucas did it on purpose).
I also like that statement because, like Obi-Wan, there’s nothing in the whole universe that I hate more than absolutes.
One absolute that particularly gives me heartburn is this one: ‘God never gives you anything you can’t handle.’
For one thing, it sort of puts God in a box, doesn’t it? I’m not sure we humans have any business declaring unilaterally what God does or doesn’t do.
For another, it simply doesn’t seem to be true. If God never gives us more than we can handle, how do you explain suicide? People who’ve chosen to end their lives would likely argue that they were given more than they could handle – and their actions could be counted as proof that they’re right! If a trial drove a person to suicide, ipso facto, it was more than the person could handle.
The phrase therefore feels like sugarcoated wishful thinking to me – a trivialization of a person’s pain and trial. And it gave me a lot of emotional trouble in the past; not because I was personally experiencing any major trials, but because I knew others who took that phrase at face value, struggled to live up to it and felt like God was letting them down when they felt the strain growing too great.
And then one day, a few months ago, God gave me the other half of the statement: ‘God never gives us anything we can’t handle – with His help.’ (Seems obvious in hindsight, but it took me a while to arrive there, believe it or not.)
The fact is, God gives us all sorts of things we could never handle on our own. Sometimes, you could argue he’s not the author of our problems, but since He could intervene and chooses not to, he’s the editor of them. What I do take comfort in is that He gives us things we can’t handle, precisely to show us how much we need Him. And when we finally come around and come closer to Him, we’re far better off than when we were trying to do things alone.
The truth is we can’t handle this stuff by ourselves, but we don’t have to – and more importantly, why would we want to?
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There’s another passage in the Bible that’s always bugged me for similar reasons:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31
God loves sparrows and He provides for them; he loves us all the more, so He’ll provide for us all the more, right?
The trouble is, the life of a sparrow isn’t all worms and birdbaths, is it? Dozens of small predators eat sparrows for breakfast – literally. Their little bodies are extremely susceptible to cold, and their high metabolism requires a constant intake of food. A wrong turn near a large window, and BAM! The sparrow’s life is over in the flap of a wing. It doesn’t take much for a sparrow to fall to the ground – inside the Father’s care or not. Sparrows thrive as species because they breed like crazy – not because God protects the individual birds from harm.
It’s not until I look back a couple of chapters at a different songbird verse that I really get a grip on what Jesus is saying here: ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?’ – Matthew 6:26-28
It’s not that God will prevent bad stuff from happening. But it all happens inside our Father’s care – and His plan. Therefore, we can trust that while we’re not in control, God is – and whether His way is pleasant for us right now or not, it’s good. Either way, worrying about it isn’t going to change it, so let go and let God.
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There’s another oft-repeated Christian phrase I’d like to point out now, but this is one I really like.
‘If you were the only person in the world, Jesus still would have died for you. He loves you that much.’ Lots have people have said this or phrases like this; I got this wording from some guy on Twitter named Daniel Jawahar.
I think that is absolutely true, but the flipside of Jawahar’s wisdom is this: if you were the only person in the world, your sin alone would have been enough to bring Jesus to the cross.
If Jesus died just for me, then I alone make Jesus’ death necessary.
Just a light and cheery message for you to ponder during Lent.
Peace be with you.