Monday, July 9, 2012

The thorn in the flesh- another view

It might seem strange for me to directly respond to an article my Catholic brother Don Hartley just posted. Further, there are things in Scripture on which one can only speculate and Paul's thorn in the flesh is one of them.

Before I continue, let me say a few words about speculating. Speculating is a fancy word for guessing. There can be wild speculation and there can be educated speculation. Inherent in speculation must be the admission that your guess could be wrong. This is because, by the very fact that you are speculating, you concede that you don't have all the facts. I, therefore, admit that I am making nothing more than an educated guess here.

For those of the Protestant, Sola Scriptura mentality, their entire belief system is based on speculation. They read the Scriptures and, in all of them, are guessing. In many cases, that speculation is actually nothing more than projection.

I digress.

My speculation is that Paul's thorn in the flesh was a strong, unrelenting temptation with which he struggled- what we today might call an addiction. Some would call it a demonic oppression (not to be confused with demonic possession).

Some might say that I am projecting from my own life history. It is wholly and completely possible that I am. Nevertheless, hear me out and see if my reasoning holds water.

The reason I do not believe this was a physical pain is because Paul accepted that type of suffering as part of his ministry, even uniting that suffering to the Cross, for the sake of the church (Colossians 1:24-25). Paul patiently bore those physical sufferings. However, this was a suffering that he felt he couldn't bear. This was a suffering that he begged Jesus to take from him.

The reason I do not believe it was a purely spiritual suffering (guilt, depression, fear etc...) is because Paul specifically tells us that it it is a thorn in the flesh. Further, we know that it was a weakness and that it ensured Paul would not get too puffed up. In other words, it was both humbling (which is to say humiliating, because humiliation is a means to humbling) and debilitating (It sapped his strength and made him weak).

Temptations can be agonizingly heavy crosses and I firmly believe that that is what Paul was dealing with here- strong temptations to commit fleshy sin, maybe even sexual sin. Paul was, after-all a Eunuch for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 19:12). That is not an easy life to live.

If I am right, people like me and others, who have struggled with these, and other temptations, can take great consolation in Our Lord's words. My grace is sufficient for you. Jesus doesn't remove the temptation, He gives sufficient Grace to overcome it. If we only persevere.

Thoughtful comments are welcome.

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