Harder Than We Could Endure

In writing about the Battle of Fontenoy, a decisive but often-forgotten battle in 841AD, which determined the split between the Carloginian Empire [1] between East and West Francia (and a contested area in the middle), the Medieval thinker Angibert finished a moving poem this way:

“Night it was, a night most bitter, harder than we could endure,
When they fell, the brave men fighting, shrewdest in the battle’s skill,
Father, mother, sister, brother, friends, the dead with tears have wept.

Now the wailing, the lamenting, now no longer will I tell;
Each, so far as in him lieth, let him stay his weeping now;
On their souls may He have mercy, let us pray the Lord of all [2].”

In reading a tale of woe like this one, where a profoundly sensitive man and brave warrior said that the bitter night after the harrowing defeat in Fontenoy was harder than he (and others) could endure, it is a platitude for people to say that God will not give us anything more than we can bear. This is based on a common understanding of 1 Corinthians 10:12-13. Yet this verse is not often correctly cited. It reads: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” Let us note that these verses (and the passage they are in) discuss the need to avoid immorality (and not follow the example of ancient Israel’s treachery against God’s ways) by pointing out to us that God will not tempt us beyond what we are able. Indeed, other passages tell us that God does not tempt others to sin, nor is tempted by sin Himself (see, for example, James 1:13-14).

It is, however, a much different thing to be tempted beyond that which we are able and for God to give us more than we can bear. To be tempted is to be led into sin. While God may certainly allow people to be tested, it is not His desire that we fall into sin at all, even if He grants us free will and the responsibilities (and consequences) that come from that freedom of thought and speech and action. On the other hand, God often acts to give us more than we can bear. The examples of this are quite extensive, and it is worthwhile to ponder some of them in detail. This has, for a variety of personal reasons, long been an area of concern and reflection, and hopefully these may be of profit in considering the larger implications of why God would want to give someone a burden that they could not bear on their own. After all, knowing these reasons may, hopefully, help aid our own efforts to live God’s ways.

The first example of God giving a punishment more than someone could bear that was recognized was the punishment given to Cain in Genesis 4:13-14, when Cain responded to his punishment of being a marked vagabond on the face of the earth by saying: “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” Cain could kill in rage, could lie to God’s face about what happened, but even the threat of exile was more than Cain could bear. Yet this was probably intentional. Before Cain could repent of his sin, he had to be broken of his arrogance and pride and selfishness. It may have been that by allowing Cain to live but by giving him a burden of isolation and rejection that God hoped to prompt Cain to repent. If this was the case, it appears as if this hope was not realized, because we have no record of Cain repenting, and indeed much record of Cain and his descendants being major figures in the decline of mankind into shocking depravity.

Yet it is not only unbelievers who are given more than they can bear. Galatians 6:1-4 talks about believers having burdens that are more than they can bear, with the purpose that we would help others to bear their burdens so that everyone could bear their load [3]. The motivation appears to be this–if believers have burdens that they cannot bear alone, then it becomes necessary for believers to fellowship with others, and to encourage others and build them up. The need would then prompt the desired response of drawing together with others in compassion and understanding, something which becomes of critical importance when we are dealing with the sort of burdens that believers have to wrestle with. How we help others to bear their burdens, or how we fail to help and may increase those burdens, is a matter of gravely serious spiritual importance in our own lives. Let us hope that we are able to help our brethren bear their burdens without adding to them the weight of frustration or anger or guilt or shame over unbiblical platitudes that seem to attack people who suffer for being weak, rather than seeking to wrestle with the possible ends that God is working towards in a particular difficult situation.

We may not see this need as being particularly relevant in our lives at the present, but circumstances can easily change. We are all just a few bad days away from being in the position of Job, stricken with illness, our families and fortune taken away from us, left to the mercies of well-meaning and pious but entirely unhelpful company who spout at us words of comfort attempting to bring about a repentance that is meant to lead to a removal of trouble when the trouble is not punishment at all. The same, of course, is true for Heman, who suffered for years with a deep struggle that harmed his health, left him despondent and isolated, and did not seem to end [4], yet who was a Levite deeply involved in the tabernacle and temple worship and among the wisest men of his day (the time of David and Solomon). If such godly people could be given burdens more than they could bear, none of us is immune from such difficulties, no matter our faith. We were not meant to walk alone, and sometimes we have to be broken to be put back together as we should. That is, however, a subject for another day.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/non-book-review-charlemagnes-early-campaigns-768-777/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/book-review-charlemagne/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/imitatio-imperii/

[2] See, for example:

http://lexchristianorum.blogspot.com/2009/05/battle-of-fontenay-en-puisaye.html

[3] See one application of this:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/lest-you-also-be-tempted/

[4] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/heman-profile-of-a-godly-man/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/personal-profile-heman-the-ezrahite/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/03/06/psalm-88-for-my-soul-is-full-of-troubles/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, History, Military History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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