The Blessing That is the Thorn in the Side
The proverbial thorn in one's side can be, in reality, a lot of different things. But they have one thing in common: you can't go a day, an hour, even a moment, without feeling their pain. Whether it is a serious physical or mental injury, the loss of a loved one, or a breach in an important relationship, it is a wound from which there is no respite. In many cases, we can scarcely take a breath, literally or figuratively, without it dominating our thoughts.
How can a thorn in the side be a blessing? Indeed, people who have lost a limb, battle with depression, or had a loved one taken away from them often become embittered towards God and the world. If they once believed in an all-powerful and all-loving God, they no longer do, choosing instead to believe in no god and in the cruelty and capriciousness of a godless existence, or else in a God who is either not all powerful, not all loving, or just plain mean.
Thorns in the side can be serious impediments not only to enjoyment of life but belief in a God who is good and caring and abundant and wise. Even if our thorns are relatively painless, their existence seems a gnawing argument against what we want to believe about God: that He is fantastically generous and supremely powerful as the Creator, Provider, and Defender of our lives. And so we half-trust Him, and hang our real hopes on something or someone else, all the while never quite finding the peace and fulfillment our souls ache for.
No one knows exactly what the apostle Paul's thorn was, and for the purposes of this post it doesn't matter. What does matter is that it was sharp enough for him to beg with God to remove it, and that it served as a source of reminder for him that God was still good even through it. In fact, the thorn elicited one of the Bible's great statements about the Christian life: My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
When we are assailed by the thorns of our lives, we feel weakness, yes. Grace, sufficiency, power, and perfection, not so much. And yet this is the Christian life. It is not doing good deeds and obeying rules and striving as much as we can to do as much good as we can, as much as it is being fully God's, to be loved and to be loved through, in spite of and especially through the wounds that we inflict on ourselves and on each other.
We are never long removed from the thorns in our side, or from the weakness they make us feel. It can seem a curse and a cruel indicator of the impotence of God or the capriciousness of the universe. Or we can, humbly and faithfully, experience power perfected in that very weakness: God for us, and God working through us to reach others, even and especially through our most painful wounds. May the modern-day church be known for this kind of posture upward towards God and outward to a world that is similarly wounded, embittered, and needy.