Those of you who are fans of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) may be familiar with a professional wrestler named Bad News Barrett. Barrett used to have a shtick going where he came out during a WWE show, climbed up into a podium, looked out over the audience, and said, “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news . . . .” Every week, Bad News Barrett brought bad news to WWE fans. Well, I feel a little like Bad News Barrett this morning (although I hope my congregation doesn’t start calling me Bad News Jackson). I’m afraid it’s my sad duty to put the kibosh on one of the most popular misconceptions that Christians have about our faith. If you stick with me to the end of this article, however, I hope to turn the bad news into even better news than you may have imagined. But first the bad news.
Have you ever heard a Christian say to someone going through a really difficult time: “Don’t worry, God won’t put more on you than you can bear.” Christians who say this do so with the best of intentions. They mean to sound encouraging. Their point is that God will make sure that you are not crushed under the weight of your burdens. After all, God knows how much we can bear and he doesn’t want to see us overwhelmed, right? Well, this sounds great. It sounds encouraging—uplifting even. But I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. It’s 100% wrong! In fact, it’s not only wrong—it’s dangerous! It’s dangerous because if you go into a situation expecting that you won’t be overwhelmed and you are, what do you think is going to happen to your faith? What do you think would have happened to Paul in Asia if he had believed that God would not ask him to carry more than he could bear? Look at what Paul told the Corinthian Christians: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Do you see what Paul says here? He says they were under pressure “far beyond our ability to endure.” The truth is that God does ask us to carry burdens beyond our ability to bear.
Like so much in the Christian life, though, the story does not end there. In fact, the truth is better than you might imagine. I’m not just Bad News Jackson. I’ve got some great news, too! You may be asking yourself, “If God does allow us to be overwhelmed by our burdens, why does He do this? Does He not love us? Does He not have the power to keep us from being overwhelmed? Of course He does. But it’s precisely because of God’s love and power that He allows us to bear crushing burdens. Let me illustrate this from my own life. Several years ago I took a leave of absence from my church. Some things had happened in my life and my family’s life that had completely overwhelmed me. Like Paul, I experienced things that were far beyond my ability to endure. It was precisely in those circumstances, though, that I realized I had no choice but to throw myself onto the love and the grace of God. And when I did that, guess what—His arms were there holding me up! My faith grew and my trust in God deepened beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped for.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Yes, God does allow us to face unendurable trials. He does it, though, to teach us to trust Him and to rely on His power. And when we do this we discover the paradoxical truth that, in Christ, there really is nothing in life that we cannot bear—in fact, not only bear but thrive in the midst of! Didn’t I tell you the truth was better that you could imagine! That is why Paul, who told the Corinthians that he “despaired of life itself,” was able to triumphantly declare to the Roman Christians: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).