I’ve heard this my entire life, from people who range in their beliefs from Protestant to Catholic to agnostic deists. I think it can be meant in a correct way – “you can handle this” – but the substance of the statement doesn’t rise even to the dignity of error.
First, it paints a picture of God personally ordering the material conditions of your life. Chance difficulties, accidents, unfortunate events, etc. are “allowed” by God but not willed by him. But when God allows something, it’s not that he allowed it for some specific predesigned “plan for your life” (another trope). It’s that he gives you certain gifts, sets the bounds of when and where you would live, and tells you to honor him and serve him. In an ideal sense, the goal of man is to “subdue the earth, be fruitful and multiply.” Therefore, when things are out of place, it is man’s role to take dominion and alter them. This gets more complex within social organisms, but nonetheless it is the essential principle.
The idea of “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” paints a picture of helpless people as marionettes, placed into a world of other puppets, all controlled by the same hand. The world is a tempest out of their control, and they are only to “be still and know that he is God.” After all, “God orders the footsteps of a righteous man.”
This is a thoroughly poisonous and debilitating worldview. God did not create marionettes; he created fellow heirs to rule and reign with him according to their faithfulness in small things. It is true that often some things are out of our control – but this is not an excuse to consider them outside of our responsibility.
How could things be out of our control but within our responsibility?
Well, you know that catastrophes can and do come. The Ancients were more intimately aware of this than even we are. Your responsibility is to make your family-tribe-society resilient to these sorts of shocks. It is understood that things are out of your control – but it is your responsibility to adapt to the realities and attempt to wrangle them into whatever controls or safeguards that can be reasonably placed upon them, and to edify oneself and one’s tribe against such shocks.
Physical fitness, for example, is a buffer against illness and injury. When an older person who is sedentary has an injury with a long recovery time, they are likely never to return to their original level of fitness, because they were already in such a weak state as to not be “prepared” against such a shock. It is your responsibility to not be a burden and even to provide safeguards for others by your physical fitness.
Likewise, being in debt or not having appropriate savings is vulnerability to forces that are sometimes out of your control. It does no good to cry and whine when unforeseen bills arrive after having spent yourself into ruin already.
These are true for any number of cases, and there is *always* something you can do to prepare against likely catastrophes. This is what is meant by “taking captive all thoughts to Christ”, as well – it is protecting against the wiles of the enemy in advance. It is educating yourself and steeling your will and soul against temptation rather than crumpling in the midst of a vortex you believe is out of your control.
The truth is, God does indeed allow us to take on far more than we can or should handle. He allows us to wreck ourselves to some degree. He allows the sanction of nature to run its course, while expecting us to be part of the hierarchical structures and safeguards established for the common good of man. If you separate yourself from that, you rejected his protection. If you separate yourself from civilization, you reject the interdependence natural to humanity and your own role in being a help to others.
Take responsibility for yourself so you can “be fruitful and multiply,” and actually be of use to others. This is what God has commanded.