And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you. (Numbers 11:18-20a)
The popular saying that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle is wrong and unbiblical. Sometimes God does seem to give us more than we can handle. God might bring about pain in our lives as a means to a greater end.
I’m not talking about tough love or punishment. Rather, it seems that for the sake of something like mercy, God can carry out (or at least work through) despair. These occasions are often answers to prayer—although not the answers we want or expect, to be sure.
Just look at the Israelites in the wilderness. Despite the tangible evidence of God’s daily provision for them, they complain (pray), “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
They are bored with God’s answer to their prayers (the manna), so they ask for what they had back beyond the sea, thinking they know better than God about what they really need for provision.
God realizes there is now only one way to get them to despise their food idols. God gives them exactly what they want in excess for the sake of disabusing them of theses idols. Manna, after all, is sufficient, but it might take quail coming out of their nostrils to realize this.
There are stories like this in everyday life, too. Just talk to an alcoholic in recovery or to any mature Christian for that matter. One such person was John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Newton wrote another excellent hymn that’s all about how and why God might give us much more than we can handle. It’s called “I asked the Lord (Prayer Answered by Crosses).”
“I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was, once, an active instrument, in a business at which my heart now shudders. My headstrong passions and follies plunged me, in early life, into a succession of difficulties and hardships, which, at length, reduced me to seek a refuge among the Natives of Africa. There, for about the space of eighteen months, I was in effect, though without the name, a Captive and a Slave myself; and was depressed to the lowest degree of human wretchedness.” (Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, 1788)
Like Newton, you might be at the helm of a sinking ship (your life). Or maybe you know someone who is. Perhaps the quail is coming out of your nostrils and you think God is punishing you.
I understand that sentiment and have had the same thoughts. But it might actually be for the sake of compassion that God is doing these things and working through our despair. He answers prayer in such ways for the sake of love and mercy—that we might cast aside idols and seek him in everything.