“So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.”
-2 Corinthians 12:7
Like Paul, I have been given a thorn in my flesh. Something that torments me, something that I have prayed for God to take away, something that kills me every day. Paul doesn’t reveal to us what his thorn was. I suppose he thought it best for the reader to contemplate his words for a deeper meaning. Or maybe it hurt him too much to talk about it. Paul was very straight forward in most cases, so the absence of a description here is meaningful. It seems he did not want to give too much time to the subject, but rather focus on what its purpose was. God using weakness to strengthen him. Paul specifically mentions pride. Paul was a very prideful person by nature. He admits this to us yet when you read his letters, you can hear it come out at times. I love Paul’s ability to admit this flaw and keep pushing forward with his mission. If Paul didn’t have a thorn in his flesh, what kind of man would he have been? Maybe his beautiful letters would have merely been utterances of a prideful and religious person. Paul astonishingly understood this. Now, 2000 years later, we are blessed with some of the greatest writings ever written. All because he was obedient to God about his thorn. He took it for what it was. A tool to humble him daily. To keep him grounded, and from falling into prideful arrogance.
Surely, Christianity itself has a thorn in the flesh which keeps it flourishing around the world. Through humble forgiveness, not anger and wrath. Through understanding and humility, not judgement and arrogance. We all share this thorn and share its burden together. It kills us every day bringing us closer together. It lies to our hearts pushing us to spread the truth to one another. It hates us, compelling us to love one another with everything we have. At the heart of Christianity is a strangeness that harnesses our faith. Pain in order to find joy. Emptiness in order to be fulfilled. Tears in order to be wiped away. Broken dreams in order to find new beginnings. Despair in order to find hope. Breaking down and begging for mercy in order to find Jesus. The strangeness of Christianity is a peculiar light that gives life to the broken hearted. A strangeness that uses all the sin in this world in order for us to find God. For God will not let His children fall away from him, providing grace for us in order to endure it all.
Lets look at the context of Paul’s statement regarding his Thorn. Not only does he give us insight on how exactly to view it and deal with it, he also provides us something mind-bending as a reason for his thorn. Paul says that his thorn is meant to keep him from becoming proud and boastful. This is because he has a reason to be proud and to boast. An extremely big one. Paul tells us that he was given revelations and visions from God. That he was ‘caught up to the third heaven’, and that he was not aware whether or not he was in or out of his body. He explains what he saw as so unbelievable, that ‘no human is allowed to tell’. Paul leaves us with this cliff-hanger, and I don’t know about you but it gives me goosebumps. Why did Paul tell us these things and how is it important when dealing with our thorns? I believe he told us this to clue us in on something. The bigger your thorn is, the bigger your responsibility, and the bigger your blessings will be. Think back on your life, think about times where you have been undeniably favored. Do you believe this was by accident? What if, those of us with thorns that threaten our very lives our so blessed that we need them to keep us from slipping into a prideful and eternally sinful state? So with Paul, we should rejoice in our sufferings and weaknesses, because if we were not highly favored by God, we wouldn’t need them. You are more important than you think, and in this way your life is given a completely new meaning. The suffering is for a reason, it does mean something and you are truly ‘chosen out of this world.’