Thorns in the Flesh
2 Corinthians 12:7-9 A thorn was given me in the flesh… to keep me from becoming conceited… I pleaded with the Lord about this… But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I once knew a woman who was consumed by guilt over her depression. She had prayed time and again for God to remove it, but He did not. In the depths of her misery, she thought she lacked faith as God did not heal her. I do not know that she ever came to accept that God allows some thorns of the flesh to remain.
We all live in a decaying flesh complete with a broken flesh nature. We all have thorns in our flesh. We all know defect, whether we like it or not. For some of us, our greatest challenge in life is some physical insult. For others, it is past physical/emotional trauma, depression or anxiety. Still others have a predisposition for addiction, pride, anger, lust, money or affirmation. The defect or thorn is not a necessarily a sin in itself, but rather some imperfection that causes us misery.
Paul was not unfamiliar. In today’s passage, he spoke personally of his defect and how his was as a thorn, causing him persistent anguish. Growing up, I was taught that Paul’s thorn was poor eyesight or some other physical ailment. I have come to think it more likely though, that Paul was speaking of his own pride, anger or lust. The word flesh, as Paul used it, referred to both our physical bodies and our corrupt natures, so I do not know for certain, but as Paul frequently wrote of our broken flesh nature, I think he was admitting a personal struggle. Ultimately, it does not matter. Whether it was an imperfection in his physical body or his nature, there are several lessons to be learned from Paul.
First, these defects, though they may not be sinful in themselves, are a source of suffering and evil. In my predisposition for food or drugs, I may become addicted to self, abandoning God. Though depression is not a sin, it can nonetheless lead me to self-destructive behavior. Physical infirmities likewise, may cause me much misery and may push me towards or away from God. Whatever the thorn is, we will come to hate it.
Second, it is appropriate that we ask God for healing. Paul prayed three times and had some expectation that God would fix him. In our suffering, it is always appropriate to ask God for help. Paul insisted that we do so. We need to know however, that we are not faithless if God says no. We may not like or understand it but it may be God’s will that our defect remains.
Paul insisted that God uses our thorns for good. His power is manifest in our weakness. It is often only in our need that we turn to God. It is only when we turn to God that He fills us with himself. If we were perfect, we would not need God. We would magnify only self. It is in our weakness that we are filled with his strength. It is his strength in us that turns others to him. Paradoxically, it is only when I am weak, that I am strong (v 10).