It’s one of the mysteries of the Bible, attended by considerable speculation over the centuries. What was the “thorn” that plagued the Apostle Paul?
Paul mentions the thorn in 2 Corinthians 12, saying “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.” He says he pleased with the Lord three times for the thorn to be removed, and three times his prayer was denied with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
It doesn’t appear to be a literal thorn that Paul was talking about. Some believe it was a human being, a persecutor who followed Paul around various cities (there were certainly no shortage of people willing to do that, including the group in Judea who vowed not to rest until they killed him). I tend to sympathize with this theory, having had what I consider more than a fair share of people over the years who stabbed, obstructed, plotted and undercut in the various jobs I’ve held.
Others believe it was some physical ailment like cataracts. Having endured a ruptured disk, I have sympathy for this argument, too. Physical ailments can be debilitating without impairing one’s mental faculties.
Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers leans toward the physical ailment theory, but gets to the heart of what the thorn is really about: strength perfected in weakness. “God taught Paul that when he was weak and feeling inadequate for the challenges of the ministry,” Sorge writes, “God’s strength was able to be manifest through him.”
There’s considerable sense in what Sorge says. When we feel on top of the world, our spiritual effectiveness can be diminished, because we think we can do it all. When we are weak, we recognize our dependence, and God can make use of that dependence.
It’s a lesson learned through experience. And often relearned through more experience. And I can say that from experience(s).
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “Confidence in His Ways,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Petr Kratichvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.