20 February 2020
Thorns in the flesh
There was given me a thorn in my flesh … Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you …’ 2 Corinthians 12: 7–9
‘My thorn in the flesh – is it my husband or my alcoholism?’ My patient, an alcoholic, was trying to deal with her addiction spiritually. She was discovering that God accepts her unconditionally, while she is still a sinner, giving her the power to become good. Like her, we can hate and love ourselves at the same time, and desire good and evil simultaneously. Why are we so flawed?
Paul was given a ‘thorn in the flesh’. What was it? Was it a bodily ailment, or was it one of sinful nature’s lusts and desires? Some have thought the ‘thorn’ might have been some ophthalmic condition, such as trachoma, or another disease like chronic malaria or epilepsy. Some have opted for spiritual
temptations or even continued opposition to the gospel. The truth is that we do not know! My patient, in a wonderful flash of insight, leapt on this ambiguity. The uncertainty allows each person to interpret the ‘thorn’ as whatever there is within that person, which is an unwanted obstacle to serving God
effectively and freely.
The point of Paul’s experience is that God works despite, or more accurately through, our ‘thorns’. God’s grace is sufficient in every circumstance. His power is shown in our weakness. God uses us despite our flaws. This of course is not to accept that anything goes. We must not continue in sin in
order to receive more and more grace. No indeed, we struggle against the sin within us, asking God to heal us, confident that his grace is sufficient to fit us for the life he has planned for us.
But there is one final uncomfortable thought. If God treats us with such grace and accepts us as we are, why have we not done likewise with others? Why are we so unforgiving?
Read: 2 Corinthians 12: 1–10; Galatians 5: 16–26.