If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

1 Corinthians 10:13 – Claptrap or Unchangeable Truth?

In the past week I read two essays in the blogosphere, (here and here) both saying essentially the same thing: To believe God will never give us more than we can handle is an erroneous interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10:13. One author called it, “sentimental claptrap” (e.g. a pretentious but empty-meaning statement, nonsense, a sham). The other author called it ‘a lie.”

I do not doubt the authors of these two blog pieces were in the morass of despondency when they challenged the veracity of St. Paul’s statement – or rather, the veracity of the Holy Spirit’s statement to us through the apostle. I am sure the authors of these articles were hurting, and their confusion and heartache clouded their spiritual eyes of faith. But to suggest God's word in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is either a lie or claptrap is a serious charge and rife with several errors of judgment. Further, calling it a lie or claptrap turns our eyes inward, onto our suffering, and not upward to God who, as the Psalmist learned, “is a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)   

Let’s look at the passage in question. This is from the New American Standard Bible:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

This from the New International Version:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. 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.

Those are only two of many versions which translate the Greek word πειρασμός (peirasmos) as ‘temptation,’ and πειράζω (peirazo) as ‘tempted.” But a word study (I used Blueletterbible.org, or the book Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) demonstrates the word can be used to describe not only temptation to sin, but can also be translated as ‘proving’, “trial’, or ‘testing’. For example, Sirach (written in Greek) 27:5,7; Galatians 4:14; Hebrews 3:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 4:12; Revelation 3:10.

That is why the New American Bible got it right when they translated the verse:

Further, the context of 1 Corinthians 10:13 guides us to the correct understanding of the word. The first 12 verses of this chapter talk about Israel’s 'testing' or 'trial' in the wilderness.

Even the secular world says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” So why is it incredible that God will sometimes test us to see what we’re made of (or rather, so that we will see what our mettle is like, since He already knows us from the beginning to end and all parts in between). To say, as these two authors say, that God gives us more than we can handle (and without the critically important follow on from Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”) is to make God either 1) a monster who willfully tries to destroy us, or 2) an impotent God who cannot affect our world or our circumstances, or 3) a God who is ignorant of what is happening in our lives.

None of those options describe the God of the Bible. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). And Love does not seek to destroy His beloved. And God is omnipotent and omniscient.

God's overriding purpose is to make us into the image of Christ. He says so in Romans 8:29. (It would be instructive to read the context of that verse, too – all the way through verse 39). And often suffering is part of  His plan to conform us into Christ’s image. For example, see 1 Peter 1:3-7 and Hebrews 5:7-9.

Suffering is part of life because we live in a fallen world. That is not, as some might call it, claptrap sentimentality and platitude. It is simply reality. But how we handle suffering is what determines our outlook both on life and, more importantly, how we view God – as either One who loves us and causes all things (even evil) to work together for good . . . or, as (as I said earlier) a monster.

Job is a great illustration of this point about suffering and about our choice how to handle suffering. I think most Christians have heard (or even memorized) his words in 13:15,  "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." The prophet Habakkuk, who lived through a horrible invasion of his land and subsequent torture and exile of his people, proclaimed something very similar in Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Life is full of trials (and, yes, even temptations to sin). Devastating trials. Heart-wrenching trials. Bloodcurdling trials. But in each case, in all cases, God never tests us beyond our ability to be victorious. To do so would make Him less than a loving Father whose purpose is to make us into the image of His Son.

How can we be sure of this? Because the Holy Spirit tells us so through the pages of Holy Scripture and through the lives of Christians – especially the Martyrs – throughout our history of faith.

God is good. In all situations and in all circumstances, God is good. He can never be anything less.

Thanks be to God. 


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your research and clarification of the Greek. Did you read both articles to the end- especially Part II? Both authors stated several times that the reason for God testing us is to cause us to surrender to Him and let His grace get us through the "unbearable" trials of life. I see their articles more as reassurances of God's love and purpose, and as a reminder that if the trial seems unbearable, it is not that we failed. I especially liked where the author changed his prayer from requesting the trials be removed, to simply asking God to make him strong enough to bear them. I'm not sure how we could read the same thing and interpret them so differently. Do you?

Rich Maffeo said...

Hello, Anonymous. Thanks for your comment. Your question is worth more attention than a quick sound bite. I am headed to work so I will respond later this evening.


Rich Maffeo said...

Once again, Anonymous, I thank you for asking the question.

Yes, I read both articles. It is good they both came at the end to the conclusion about God’s help through trials. But that is not what they accused in the beginning of their respective essays. They impugned the inerrancy of Scripture because Scripture didn’t match up with their experience. And although they concluded as they did, they nevertheless did not correct their initial error. Thus, readers can easily be left with the idea that these authors consider such passages of Scripture that don’t meet their expectations as claptrap and a lie.

It is extraordinarily dangerous to our spiritual health – and the spiritual health of others – to judge the truth of Scripture by our experience. “Let God be true,” St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome (3:4), “and every man a liar.”

I am reminded now of St. Paul’s charge to the Christians at Corinth (1 Corinthians 8). The subject was eating meat sacrificed to idols. I am sure you are familiar with the passage. Paul said it really didn’t matter to him if he ate meat sacrificed to idols or meat that wasn’t so dedicated. But – and this plays I think to the point I am trying to make about these two articles – if eating such meat would cause a weaker brother or sister to slip in their faith, then he would never eat meat again, to protect the weaker brethren.

Again, I will presume both authors were in the slough of despair when they wrote their complaints. And it may be true that in retrospect they really know better than to call God’s word into question. But the ripple effect such accusation against Scripture’s inerrancy can be disastrous for weaker Christians who are not as familiar with Holy Scripture as perhaps you and I.

If 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a lie, then what about John 11:25-26? Or 14:6; Or Matthew 28:20? Or Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 15, or, or, or . . .

The Scripture – every verse of scripture from Genesis to Revelation – is not at all sentimental claptrap or nonsense, or a lie. It is our only hope and life and light – but only to those who believe. The Holy Spirit tells us that through St. Paul in his letter to the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:13): “We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”

1 Corinthians 10:13 holds out its promise to believers that God will not permit us to be tested or tried above our ability to overcome (with Christ, of course, for without Him we cannot even take our next breath). But with every test and trial He will always provide us the means to escape, so that we may be able to bear it.

But that is a promise to those who believe God’s word – even above their experience.

I hope I have clarified a little further why I took such umbrage with those two articles. I really do thank you for asking me the question.

JackieD said...

I don't think either author is actually guilty of calling the bible "sentimental claptrap" or lies. They aren't objecting to the Corinthians verse, but the clichéd coloquialism "God never gives you more than you can handle". This sounds similar to the verse you are defending, but the important difference is between "allows" and "gives". Both authors were very careful to point out that the saying they objected to was a misrepresentation of a Mother Teresa quote; the Corinthians verse was not the source of their complaint.

Rich Maffeo said...

Hello, Jackie. What you say may be true and I just severely misinterpreted both authors. I certainly hope that is the case. But without their input, we are probably not going to know their true perceptions of both the text in question or the entire Scripture. But I 'do' thank you for responding. That you even took the time to do that encourages me.