This week's question came via e-mail. In part the letter read, "I met a guy yesterday who is HIV+. We were talking about God's testing us and agreed no one is tested beyond their own capabilities. Was I spouting benign comfort or is there really something to it?"
The passage our writer paraphrased is 1 Corinthians 13.10, "No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it."
In this passage Paul is speaking specifically about temptations that distract us and test our moral turpitude. Certainly, the general tenor of scripture reflects the notion that each of us has the choice between right and wrong when it comes to life's tests. There are those whose theology insists we do not have the ability to "Just Say No!" to temptation until we have become Christian, but that's another question for another day. Scripture does imply that each of us are provided with the knowledge of right and wrong and the ability to escape doing wrong.
However, citing this passage as a placebo for life's difficult situations could be a misuse of scripture depending on how one defines the word "test" in this passage. The question comes down to: Is difficulty in life the same as a test/temptation?
A quick survey of the stories of scripture indicates virtually every character somehow faced trying circumstances. Examples include the hardships of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, King David and the loss of the throne to his ambitious son, Ruth and the loss of her husband, and even Jesus and his crucifixion. Doubtless each of these situations were terribly difficult to endure, and yet the situations themselves weren't temptations. On the other hand, the choices in handling these situations could well have presented temptations. David may have been tempted to give up. Jesus may have been tempted to return to carpentry. But in none of these cases was the temptation equal to the situation.
In the case of our writer, the friend's HIV+ is not a test, and, unless a cure is found, the promised "escape" from the "test" doesn't apply. Instead, the disease is a difficult life situation. Temptations associated with the disease could be unsafe intercourse, suicide, or quitting in despair. But the disease itself is not a temptation and the promises of this particular scripture are not valid in this situation.
So, no, the passage quoted doesn't apply to the friend's circumstances. However, this is not to say we are abandoned in life's tough situations. We are promised God's presence in life, even (especially) in difficult times. Never are we left on our own, for God is always there with comfort and strength. "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8.38-39).