Everytime I read about Paul's thorn in the flesh I wonder what it is. We are never told in Scripture what it was specifically and there is no shortage of speculation from theologians on this matter. But as I read it again this morning I prayed something over myself that made me wonder even more about it. My prayer was pretty simple: Father, it's difficult to know the difference between a thorn meant to keep me humble and disobedience that keeps me falling on my face. Help me to see which ones I resist Your power in me to display Your strength to be an overcomer by grace.
And then I sat and stared at Paul's words on the page. And while I am not a theologian by any stretch and I have never taken any kind of seminary class, I wonder if Paul's thorn wasn't a physical problem at all, but a spiritual one.
We know that we are to be crucified with Christ and that we must die to the flesh. And heaven knows our flesh can get us in a heap of trouble. So as I thought about all the things that Paul says throughout his letters, I came up with a theory. And again, this is my theory. I'm sharing this for two reasons alone. First and foremost, I know this is what I'm supposed to write about regardless of how unqualified I feel to even broach the subject. Second, if there is any substance to it at all, it is enormously helpful for the rest of us.
What do we know about Paul? Paul describes himself as a Hebrew among Hebrews. He was a Pharisee who oversaw the persecution of Christians and he knew the law well.
What does Paul write about? Paul tells us that we are made new in Christ and that our old life is gone, that we can take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, that when we are faced with temptation we are always given a way out from under it, that we must consistently have our minds renewed, that all are welcomed through Christ, and that his experience with Christ on the Damascus Road dramatically changed his life.
By his own admission we know that Paul feels his thorn was given to keep him from becoming conceited, and that the thorn was a messenger of Satan to torment him. We also know that what Satan uses to destroy us, God can use to define us by our extreme dependence upon Him. And so because of the thorn, for Christ's sake, Paul now delights in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties.
Finally, from Jesus own words we are told that Satan's tactic is to steal, kill, and destroy.
Now, if I were Paul and commissioned to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, I would struggle with: Pharisaical thoughts and difficulty remaining focused on Jesus because the grace I now know to be true would want to default to the knowledge I've always relied on. #TheLaw Additionally, the friends I've always had (other law abiding citizens) would now be insulting me and making things as hard as they possibly can for me. Plus, considering Paul's background, he is now taking the Gospel to people that previously he would have made them adhere to every law in the books if they wanted to join his group.
If Paul's thorn was a messenger of Satan, what better way to steal his joy, cause him to sin leading to a spiritual death, and destroy his testimony, than to make him crazy by struggling against who he always was and the way he always thought? Can you even imagine the difficulty he had with the fact that circumcision was no longer required? And to have to stop seeing what you always saw as unclean as clean in Christ?
So why is this so crucial for us and beneficial for us? It's crucial because what we face, particularly as sin that leads down a spiraling path of destruction, starts in the thought-life of our heads and hearts. Beneficial because through Paul's life and inclusion in the New Testament, we see what's truly possible in a life submitted to the strength God provides in keeping our minds focused on Christ in heaven where our life is now hidden.
Until any of us get to heaven and can find out what Paul's thorn was, anything is pure speculation on our behalf. But to even entertain the thought that it was a predisposition to revert back to his old ways should give us such hope that even though the temptation might not go away, the responses to it can. I think sometimes we get so caught up in the idea that becoming an overcomerer or more than a conqueror means that the desire disappears completely. That might not happen. But that's not what being a conqueror is about. Winning the battle means not giving in or giving up, not moving forward unopposed.
Whatever we face, whatever our individual thorns are, we can rest assured that the grace of God will always be enough to see us through to the other side. May our joy be found in seeking the grace He is extending to get us over the bump in the road and leads us to living a life worthy of the calling we have received.