Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thorn in the Flesh

It may not have taken long for Jacob to accept his displaced hip as what we would most likely call a "thorn in the flesh," although Jacob did not have the testimony of Paul on this matter to be of much comfort to him. But it was, perhaps, the one thing Jacob realized he might never be able to shake about himself, the one thing he accepted might never be healed.

And that is the story of these thorns throughout Scripture: not a one of them has ever been healed. 

Jacob's hip was displaced, and as far as we know, he spent the rest of his life limping. We don't know if he resented this, if this hindered him at all. We don't know if he spent countless hours praying for the healing of his hip, begging God to touch it just one more time. We don't know if God...refused.

Paul says plain out that he was refused, that he prayed fervently for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, but God simply never consented to do so. Paul, I don't think, ever gave up praying for his own healing, but I do wonder sometimes if his prayer became less fervent over time. I wonder if Paul started praying, not even expecting anything any more. I wonder if he prayed because he always said he would pray.

I wonder if his prayer changed over time from one of petition for his healing to one of grace for his weakness. 

Even Jesus, the Son of God Himself, took His heaviest of burdens to His Father. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before His crucifixion, He prayed that there must be some other way. He prayed His hesitation. He prayed His stress. He prayed that this Cross might not put thorns in His flesh, and just a few hours later, every breath He took on that Cross put another splinter in His spine. 

It's scary to think about thorns in the flesh because the stories about them are so clear: not one of them has ever been healed. 

It's scary to think about because there are things in my life that feel...unhealable. That feel...ignored. That feel like God has heard my cry and...refused. 

We tell ourselves that these are the things that are integral to our own stories, that if we did not have these thorns in the flesh, then we would just not be who we presently are. We could never be who God was shaping us to be. Paul, I think, influences us to think this way when he acknowledges that his thorn in the flesh keeps him humble. But I think this is a mistake. I think this is our misunderstanding.

Because if Paul's thorn in the flesh was really such an important part of his testimony, we'd probably know more about it. 

We wouldn't be guessing, 2,000 years later, what Paul meant when he said this; he'd have made it plain to us. We wouldn't be trying to piece together the elements of Paul's story to discover what he was talking about; he'd simply have told us. The same is true for every other thorn in the flesh, or potential thorn in the flesh, story that we have. We are never told enough about it to make it a central element of anyone's story.

We never hear about Jacob's limp again. Never. His limp wasn't as central to his story as we might want to make it. It doesn't even have a bit part; it has one line. One. Line. And then it's gone. Only Jacob remembers his limp. Only Jacob has to live with it.

We never hear what the Cross does to Jesus. We hear plenty about what Jesus does for us on the Cross, but we don't hear the testimony of how it impacts His heart. I'm curious. Aren't you? Don't you wish there were a way to know the depth of the heartbrokenness that Jesus felt on Calvary? Don't you wonder what was really going through His mind in those final hours? Don't you wonder what the Cross had to say to the Son of God? It wasn't silent. There is no possible way that it was silent. But we only hear the testimony of what the Son of God had to say to the Cross. So even though Jesus prays about the bitter cup, this does not become central to His story. At least, not to the story He shares with us.

So these thorns in the flesh that we're so willing to accept as unhealable in our lives...they just aren't so critical to our stories as we think they are. If they are, don't you think they'd have more than one line? Don't you think they'd say more than just the same few words over and over and over again? Turn the page already. 

But that doesn't answer the nagging question we all have, and I hear you. I hear you because I'm asking it myself. Am I unhealable? Am I destined to be broken? Does God hear my fervent prayer and...refuse?

He's never healed a thorn in the flesh. But what does that mean for you and me?

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