What happened with them goes to show us how not to make the same mistakes:
Don’t sell yourselves to false gods like they did. Remember the story about how they had a gluttonous orgy. 23,000 people died because of that. Don’t demand that Jesus cater to your whims like they did. It ended up with a lot of people dying of snakebites. Don’t be constant complainers like they were. It was a path of senseless destruction.
Like I said, these stories were written down so that we can avoid the mistakes of the past when it seems to us as if the world’s coming to an end. So when you think everything is going well, watch out not to get tripped up. Your troubles aren’t much different from anyone else’s. God won’t give you more than you can handle. Remember, the nature of temptation is that there is always a right way and a wrong way.
I’ve heard this phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” misused by well-intentioned people to say that real hardship and tragedy isn’t really so bad. “Suck it up,” they say. “If you weren’t able to handle it, God wouldn’t have let it happen.” Hogwash!
A hurricane blows in. An earthquake happens. A wildfire burns. Life happens. We don’t get any choice about a lot of things. Sometimes they are terrible things. Without ever having smoked a cigarette you get cancer. These are not God things, they’re life things. And they happen whether you’re Christian or not. They happen whether we’re “good” or “bad.” Sometimes we survive them, and sometimes we don’t. It’s not about deserving or handling.
But Paul is writing about temptation, not about bad things happening out of the blue. And that’s something we all have to deal with every day. Every temptation involves a choice. If there wasn’t really a decision involved, it wouldn’t be a temptation. Plain and simple. And there are lots of stories (Paul’s come from the Exodus) that serve as lessons about choosing wisely (and the hazards of choosing foolishly).
Paul’s suggestion from the Exodus story is that when you feel like the world is falling apart, three things are essential:
- being true to yourself and what you, at your core, believe (instead of numbing yourself with food and sex),
- taking responsibility (instead of waiting for someone else to do what you’re responsible for and then blaming them when it doesn’t happen), and
- doing something (instead of bringing others down with complaining and nit-picking).
But the world doesn’t have to be falling apart for these things to be important. Temptations come every day. Do your best work, or piddle about on Facebook. Spend quality time with your spouse, or play yet another hand of solitaire. Pass the buck to the person at the next desk, or do your job. You get the picture. It’s always choosing. And with each choice, you wouldn’t be at that particular juncture – it wouldn’t be a juncture – unless you were really capable of making the right decision about it. This is what Paul means by, “It’s not more than you can handle.”
Either way, it’s up to you.
Do the right thing.