Wednesday April 15, 2020
7 I will say this: because these experiences I had were so tremendous, God was afraid I might be puffed up by them; so I was given a physical condition which has been a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to hurt and bother me and prick my pride. 8 Three different times I begged God to make me well again.
9 Each time he said, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need. My power shows up best in weak people.” Now I am glad to boast about how weak I am; I am glad to be a living demonstration of Christ’s power, instead of showing off my own power and abilities. 10 Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite happy about “the thorn,” and about insults and hardships, persecutions and difficulties; for when I am weak, then I am strong—the less I have, the more I depend on him.2 Corinthians 12:7-10 – The Living Bible (TLB)
Have you ever heard someone say, “That’s going to scar him for life!” It’s usually said for comic relief about something that was dramatic in a person’s life. It is true enough, that as we go through life, many things do affect us. And when those things are harmful, they can leave scars.
Many of us have actual scars from surgeries. I have a silver-colored scar running down each of my knees – that’s where the surgeon performed knee replacement surgery. Others have scars from heart surgeries or kidney-replacement surgery or even skin cancer surgeries. Although scars are often seen as something bad, they are really good. Scars are the result of successful interventions to help a person live a healthier life. They can remind us of the pain and suffering that was a part of the original problem – or they can remind us of the healing the surgical intervention brought.
We all carry scars that are not physical, instead they are scars of the heart, things that have hurt us in the past, things that may not have healed even after many years. People can carry hurts from childhood, things like being bullied or ostracized from a social group. There are scars from adulthood, things like losing friendships or being passed over for a promotion. None of these scars show on the outside, but they are no less real. And they may not be scars at all. Scars result from a healing process. They show that infection is gone, a condition has been remedied, and healing can begin. But if something is still wounding, that something is not part of the healing process. When past hurts continue to hurt us, they cannot heal.
I once heard a therapist relate that when a client finally can talk about a past hurt, even one that may have happened as a child, the person’s voice changes to sound like that person at the age when the hurt happened. The therapist suggested that this showed that the person was not able to move past the hurt. If the hurt happened as a ten-year-old, the person sounded like a ten year old. The client could only move past their hurt after it was talked about, discussed and new insights drawn. It could be said that once it was opened up, cleaned out, and disinfected, it no longer was a hurt but was on its way to becoming a scar.
Paul had some sort of hurt, a thorn in the flesh. Paul calls it a physical condition, but it could also be something internal that affected him physically. Paul doesn’t tell us whether this thorn in the flesh was physical, spiritual, or emotional. There has been much discussion as to exactly what this “thorn” was. Some of the more popular theories of the thorn’s interpretation include temptation, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, or a speech disability. Others have suggested that he could be referring to the Jews’ rejection of the gospel or other persecution. The phrase “thorn in the flesh” continues to be used as a metaphor for “a source of continual annoyance or trouble.” Paul had no relief from this “thorn.”
Whatever it was, it kept him from being as effective as he felt he could without it. Because Paul was doing God’s work, it seemed only natural for him to ask God to take this condition or situation away. He didn’t ask just once, he asked three times.
But God did not answer Paul’s plea, and Paul wanted to know why this was the case. Paul was not asking for something for himself; instead he was asking for something that would allow him to be more effective in spreading the gospel. Why wasn’t God giving Paul what he asked for? Paul did get this answer – God’s power is most noticeable in weak people, people who nevertheless continue to rely on God. Instead of feeling weak by relying his own strength, Paul felt strong because he relied on God’s power.
The exact nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is uncertain. There is probably a good reason that we don’t know. God likely wanted Paul’s difficulty to be described in general enough terms to apply to any difficulty we may face now. Whether the “thorn” we struggle with today is physical, emotional, or spiritual, we can know that God has a purpose and that His grace is all-sufficient. There are two types of things that we deal with – things that we can change, sometimes with help from professionals or friends or through prayer, and things that we can’t change no matter what.
We all have had or will experience chronic illnesses, aging, diminished abilities, and other ailments. We all have had or will experience emotional hurts, things in our pasts that we cannot change. Some of these things we cannot change because they are part of the aging process. These we will continue to live with – just a Paul learned to live with his “thorn in the flesh.” Other things that we may want changed are not in our ability to change. We cannot bring back a loved one. We can’t go back and fix something hurtful that we did in the past. Some things just can’t be changed. Some things we just have to live with. Paul’s reaction to not having his prayer answered in the way that he wanted helps us all accept that not all of the things we pray for, no matter how good they might be, will be answered in the way we would like.
There have been millions, even hundreds of millions, of prayers prayed for an end to this coronavirus pandemic. God so far has not answered those prayers. One of the lessons to be learned from this unusual time is that we humans don’t have all the answers. In time, we pray that we humans will find a vaccine that will tame this virus. In time, our lives will get back to some kind of normalcy. But while we are in the midst of this pandemic, we can continue to pray to God for strength, strength that comes from our most powerful God. For that we can give thanks every day. God is with us. That is all we need. Amen.
-Pastor Joyce Donigian