Paul’s Thorn Actually Was Overcome

by Mike McKinniss

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” has often been used by Christians in various circles as evidence that God does not always desire to heal. However, 2 Corinthians 12 points to just the opposite claim: God always desires to overcome weakness.

The chapter opens with Paul bragging about how tight he is with God, how super spiritual he is because of his far-out visions of the third heaven (whatever that is).  Then he starts to bring himself back down to earth in verse 7:

So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Cor 12:7-9)

This text is often cited by those who don’t believe it’s always God’s desire to heal physical illness as proof positive (or negative).  But several things strike me:

  1. It isn’t perfectly clear that Paul is talking about a physical malady.  I’m not sure anyone believes Paul is referring to a literal thorn protruding from his skin, just above the pelvis.  It could have been a figure of speech, as it is today, of just about any bothersome situation.
  2. Paul is clear that his trouble comes from Satan, the accuser.  This, along with the personal weakness talk, makes me think it’s more likely a spirit come to incessantly remind Paul of his deficiencies, like maybe he’s not such a good speaker (1 Cor 1:17).
  3. Whatever the actual thorn, Paul seems certain its source is not the Lord.
  4. Paul’s response is also worth noting.  His reaction is to pray for its removal.  It is not until the Lord specifically tells him that it’s there to stay that Paul relents in his prayers.  Paul assumes the proper stance is to petition for its removal unless he hears otherwise.  He does not assume the thorn is there to stay unless God instructs him to pray against it, but the other way round.
  5. Most importantly, is that God does actually overcome whatever this thorn is.  The Lord’s power is only made perfect when He actually acts in power.  This is partly why I like thinking this was a deficiency in Paul’s gift-set.  Despite being discouraged by the constant reminder that he’s not an eloquent speaker (I’m postulating), Paul consistently finds that the Lord shows up to impact his audience every time.

There’s no question each of us has our own “thorns,” areas of our lives that are less than ideal, parts of our histories we’d sooner forget, things we’re called to do that we know we simply can’t do.  Paul’s point is simple and it’s perfectly in line with every favorite Bible story: God does overcome every deficiency, even yours.