I have a “thorn in the flesh.” I do like it. I often wish I didn’t have it. At times I’m exasperated by it. It makes everything harder, it weakens me. I often feel I would be more effective and fruitful without it. I have pleaded to God, sometimes in tears, for it to be removed or for more power to over come it. But it remains.
No, I’m not going to explain what it is. The details aren’t important to the point I want to make, and I think it would actually make this post less helpful. Because you may have your own thorn in the flesh. Yours will be different than mine, but it’s purpose will be similar. We are given thorns that significantly weaken us in order to make us stronger.
The Most Famous Thorn
We get the term “thorn in the flesh” from the Apostle Paul:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.2 Corinthians 12:7
The most redemptive gift of pain in history was given to us through the most evil means.
Paul’s thorn is among the most famous afflictions in history, and we don’t even know what is was. There’s been a lot of speculation over the years. Some say his thorn was a messages of Satan who tormented him. Maybe from the persecutions or hardships Paul faced. Other’s say it could have been a physical affliction such as an eye disease, or all the physical violence and deprivation he endured.
The fact that we really don’t know what Paul’s thorn was turns out to be both merciful and instructive to us. It’s merciful because, given the possibilities, we can all identify with Paul to some degree in our afflictions. It’s instructive because what Paul’s thorn was isn’t the point. The point is what God’s purpose was for the thorn.
Sent From God’s Hand
Paul makes two amazing, and somewhat initially disturbing, statements about his painful thorn – in the same sentence:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me.2 Corinthians 12:7
The first amazing claim Paul makes is that God gave him his thorn. It’s clear from the context that Paul identified God as his thorn giver, not Satan. And he understood that God’s purpose was to keep Paul humble and dependent on Christ’s power ( 2 Corinthians 12:9).
God disciplines His children with affliction in order to protect them from having their joy destroyed by pride.
Most of us can identify with the sorts of revelations Paul was given, and when we read the kind’s of suffering Paul experienced (2 Corinthians 11:23-27), it’s probably safe to say our thorns don’t pierce as deeply as his did. But God’s purpose in our thorns as similar.
Pride, in all its manifestations, is our most pervasive sin and most dangerous to us spiritually. Anything God gives us to keep us humble and prayerfully dependent on Him is a great gift – even when that gift causes pain.
Pain can protect us from pain; redemptive pain can protect us from destructive pain.