There’s a song that the Christian radio station in my area used to play all the time, and my husband and I almost always switched the stations when it would come on. Apart from simply not liking the song, we also had an issue with what it communicated (though the lyrics and message are well-intentioned, I’m sure).
The song is “He Said” by Group 1 Crew. It’s the chorus that gets to me:
He said, ‘I won’t give you more, more than you can take, and I might let you bend, but I won’t let you break… .’
It bothers me because it hits on a very common and harmful misconception that so many of us believe: that God won’t let us hurt or break or suffer, or that he won’t give us more than we can handle in this life. To be honest, I would like to see what Scripture is used to back up this idea (comment if you know of any). What really gets me about the song in particular, though, is that it says to remember “what he said” (he being Jesus), and I just don’t know that Jesus actually ever said any close to what this song says he does.
I think it all stems from a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which states that no temptation will seize us that we cannot handle, and that God will always provide us a way out to stand up underneath temptations we face:
God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
We know this verse to be true. We know that God will equip us to withstand temptation. But temptation and suffering are very different, and it’s important that we acknowledge that.
The girls in the youth group I help out with on Wednesday nights and I have decided to read a chapter of Proverbs a day this month, seeing as there are 31 chapters in the book and 31 days in January. And I wanted to post some of the things I’ve noticed, since I’ve found that I get very little out of Scripture unless I write about it (fancy that, being a writer and all).
To be honest, it’s probably, like, my least favorite book of the Bible (and that includes Leviticus, people—but I think Numbers takes the number one spot). I guess I just don’t find it that exciting, and it is awfully repetitive (for good reason, I suppose). It’s so dang practical, how dull! Haha.
But I also know it’s full of wisdom, so I read it anyway. And as I finish the 7th chapter, here’s what I’ve gleaned thus far.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1, 2 ESV)
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91 (ESV, emphasis added)
Ask me my favorite book of the Bible, and I’ll almost always say Ecclesiastes. It’s just full of awesome revelations and experiences from a man who tried all this world has to offer and still was left wanting. It’s my go-to book to read whenever I’m at that wow-I-haven’t-read-the-Bible-in-forever moments.
But this time I forced myself to go to a book I have never read all the way through, and I picked Isaiah. I wouldn’t say it’s a 180 from Ecclesiastes, but it’s definitely very different. It doesn’t follow a plot or line of logic. In fact, it could easily be described as a stream of consciousness narrative, and the content focuses on sin and redemption rather than philosophy.
It’s a book of prophecy, but not in the sense that it is predictive of the future—while there are moments of that. Isaiah is prophetic in that it tells forth God’s message. Its format, like I said, is narratively lacking—scholars have called it an anthology of sorts, in fact—a collection of independent units that have something general in common. That being said, it is thematically united in that all the chapters seem to focus on evil, sin, and judgement and shift into the coming redemption. It’s not chronological in its succession of chapters, though; in fact, it seems somewhat timeless in its setting. At any point in time, the words could be referring to a metaphoric portrayal of God’s message in general (for example, the deliverance of a sinful city representing man’s redemption from sin by God), the coming of the Messiah (for example, the deliverance of a sinful city representing the atonement of all sin through Jesus’ death on the Cross), or the end times (for example, the deliverance of a city representing God’s kingdom being established here on earth).
And now you probably see why I love it so much. It’s not to be taken at face value. It’s complex, it’s poetic, it’s unnerving, it’s intricate, much like Ecclesiastes is, but in a very different way. But enough about that.
In chapter one, I noticed something very specific. The rebellious city addressed in this chapter seems to be attempting to atone for their sin with a multitude of sacrifices and religious duties, and the Lord’s response stuck out to me:
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching [or Law] of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (1:10-17, emphasis added).
Firstly, what this passage is probably NOT saying: I don’t think this passage is saying that prayer, religious rites, worship, or other pious duties are always detestable to God, or that they are worthless. It also is not saying that God cannot meet us where we are in our sinfulness or that he ignores sinners because then we’d all be screwed.
Now, what it probably IS saying: God has some strong dislike for hypocrisy—the use of piety to cover up a sinful heart. But He has a great passion and desire for His children to REALLY, truly live for Him, which means “remov[ing] the evil deeds from before [His] eyes” (v. 16). (And I think He means for us to STOP doing evil deeds, not to hide those evil deeds from him.) He wants to treat the internal disease, not just wash off the external symptoms with rituals that have become empty and heartless. He’d rather see us do what He commands by living set apart, seeking justice, and ceasing to do evil because that more truly represents His cause than sacrifices or “solemn assembly.”
And even more crazy, Isaiah is pointing to the way Jesus will bring forth as recorded in the New Testament: redemption does not reach man through our rites and religiosity alone—that’s why we need a Messiah. It speaks to the fact that God sees through our outwardness and deep into our hearts, our intentions, our inherent sinfulness. More than that, the passage foretells those verses of the New Testament that instruct us that true religion isn’t in the prayers we speak, the lyrics we sing, or the sacrifices we make, but is found in seeking justice, healing the sick, and looking after widows and orphans in their distress—in short, that true religion is found in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
I could go on, but I’m afraid I’ve already revealed my propensity for rambling. I just… it’s so good.