Truth matters—whether you’re in the midst of a pandemic or not.
And half-truths, what I’ll “ish,” seem to be on the rise. My hope is to dive past the easy answers, and mine out something that’s actually helpful.
This is the second half of a two-part series looking for life-changing truth that lies beyond the dumb things Christians say about COVID-19. Part one focused on suffering. I know, it sounds about as riveting as a root canal, but we actually had a good time—and learned a thing or two. If you haven’t checked it out, you can find it here.
Today’s installment—the most misquoted Bible verse of all time and the end of the world. Who’s ready to shovel some ish?
1) GOD WON’T GIVE YOU MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE
We don’t just save this one for times of global pandemic. Christians love to shoot this little tid-bit of self-help at any problem, especially if it’s someone else’s.
At first pass, it sounds biblical. Plot twist—it’s not. It’s a misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, in which Paul writes, “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.”
Let’s be clear, Paul is writing about temptation. First things first, the Bible teaches elsewhere that God doesn’t tempt anyone—that pleasant slice of life comes from Satan. These two passages, when laid on top of one another, paint a picture of a God who isn’t just passive about temptation, but actively combats it. One way he fights it? By His faithfulness.
Rather than a holy “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Paul is teaching his readers how to endure situations that tempt them to disregard their faith (like a fast spreading global pandemic, for instance). He is saying that when you are on the razor’s edge, open wide your vision—you are not alone. God is faithful. He is still with you, even in that moment. And that fact should motivate you to deal with temptation positively, whether it’s an impulse to cheat on your taxes or cheat on your spouse.
Then Paul goes one step further. He insists God won’t just weather the temptation with you, he will actually provide a way out. God wants you to pass the test without failing.
Paul is layering truth on top of truth, building a foundation. God is the author of good things. When things go sideways, He hasn’t abandoned you. That realization should help you make wise choices.
He isn’t playing chess with your life and emotions. He’s not moving you on a gameboard to see how you react. Temptation is a function of the enemy. God fights with you. He fights for you. Don’t leave him to fight alone.
Now that we’ve established this verse is about temptation, can we all agree to stop using this like a spiritual bandaid? A few years ago, my then two year-old daughter was diagnosed with a lifelong illness. (She’s doing well, thanks for asking.) In the aftermath of that, so many well-meaning people repeated “God will not give you more than you can handle” like a mantra to my wife and I. Dear friends, thanks for trying, but it doesn’t help.
What did help was another passage, also penned by Paul, just a few pages over. It felt 100% honest to where my family was at the time. In 2 Corinthians 1, he writes: “We do not want you to be uninformed… about the troubles we experienced. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.”
Life being harder than you can handle—that’s kind of the point. If you can jump all the hurdles on your own power, you wouldn’t need the God who heals; the God who raises the dead; the God who breathes life; the God who restores.
God will give you more than you can handle, because it’s precisely in those moments that you realize just how much you need Him.
2) IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD
I get it. The end of the world is fascinating to think about and provides great fodder for movies. People have been obsessing about the end since, well, the beginning. It’s no different now. For many Christians, this global pandemic is the latest mile marker on the way to end.
I grew up in a faith tradition that wasn’t afraid of the end. We studied what the Bible says about it. We took prophecies seriously. We sought to be wise. While I’m less fervent about it now than I was a teenager (#LeftBehindFever), I very much appreciate that upbringing. It taught me to trust the scriptures more than my feelings or fears.
Here’s what the Bible teaches about it (in summation): God made the world. We messed it up. He’s going to come back, as a conquering king, to fix all that we’ve broken. He will re-establish His kingdom on earth and reign for eternity. His people will live alongside him. There will be no more sickness, death, or crying.
Shoot. If that’s the deal, I hope it’s the end of the world. What Jesus’ people get sounds pretty freakin’ amazing.
Followers of Christ usually take two lines when it comes to the apocalypse (cue lightning and dramatic music): Obsess about it and see every news story as another tick on the clock or ignore it altogether because it makes them uncomfortable. Neither of those approaches is very healthy or helpful.
We shouldn’t go much further down this road without mentioning the final book of the Bible, Revelation. It’s an apocalyptic vision of how this whole thing ends—evil reaches a fever pitch; people are caught in the crosshairs; it looks like Satan triumphs; but Jesus comes riding in on a white horse from the east, at the first light of the fifth day. No wait, that’s Gandalf. But Jesus’ entrance is just as epic. The final two chapters describe the renewal of all things and the unending reign of Jesus on earth. You should read it. It’s incredible.
There are about a blue million ways to interpret Revelation. Some see it as a word-for-word, play-by-play of future events. Some see it as an allegory of what’s to come. Some see it as a letter of encouragement written to believers suffering under the persecution of Rome. I tend to fall into the third camp, but hey, I could be wrong. It’s a hard book to understand completely.
So there’s this confusing book at the end of the Bible. But what about Jesus? Thanks for asking. He spoke very little about the end of days, but he does have two messages we’d do well to remember: be brave and stop guessing.
Jesus says the beginning of the end will be marked with false prophets, wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and religious persecutions. But he finishes that thought with a command to be fearless: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” The end is not to be feared. If this is it, we should face it with heads high, anticipating our coming King (instead of rewatching Tiger King).
The other thing Jesus says, which is pretty key in this whole deal, is that no one knows when the end of days is—not even him. “Concerning the day and hour no one knows—neither the angels in Heaven, nor the son—except the Father only.” So, making predictions is, well, pretty much wasted time. You can stop guessing. We can’t know more than Jesus about it.
Because no one knows when the end is near, Jesus advises his followers to “stay alert.” In the days of COVID-19, it’s still sound advice. Now is not the time to fear. It’s not the time to be overly obsessing about Revelation OR burying our heads in the sand.
As with everything else, this is a BOTH/AND scenario. Scripture says there will be a final day. Might be today. Might not be. Might have something to do with COVID. Might not. Guessing and obsession won’t reveal what God has hidden and ignoring it won’t make it any less true.
So what are we to do? Live each day as if it was the final one. When I do that, every day of my life gets the weight it deserves, and I make wiser and healthier choices.
Plus, it makes Tim McGraw happy.
When it comes to this one, it’s best to take Jesus’ direct advice. Be alert. Be watchful. Stop guessing and be brave.
And most of all, stop posting dumb ish on Facebook.