When we think of thorns in the Bible, we think most immediately of the crown of thorns placed on Jesus's head. What an image that is! The King Himself crowned with thorns, pushed into His brow until they drew little drips of blood that coursed down His face and caked over His compassion-filled eyes.
It's quite a scene. We have come to know well what those thorns mean.
Or have we?
If I asked you to think about another act of saving grace in the Bible that involved quite a bit of thorns, could you do it? Think really hard. Harder. Harder.... If you're like me, you can't think of another single biblical story that has thorns so prominently woven (pun intended) into it.
You might be thinking it must be some kind proverb somewhere. Something about a thorn in the side, perhaps. Something about being pierced by the underthicket of life. That sounds like God. At the very least, it sounds like Solomon. Maybe Ecclesiastes? That was full of a weird blend of hope and cynicism; a thorn would fit nicely there.
Maybe you're thinking about Eden. About the Garden. Specifically, about the curse. Were there thorns there? Certainly, thorns sound like part of the curse. That's got to be it.
This is where a little knowledge about our world can greatly enhance our understanding of the Bible. This is where investing ourselves in learning about things outside of our own context can help us. The story about thorns that I'm thinking of is a story I have read a thousand times and not once understood how thorny a story it really is.
Because I live in America. Because I live in the Midwest, where so much of "outside" looks the same and if you can learn a few basic facts about bushes and trees and grasses, you can pretty much go anywhere in a 7-state region and recognize stuff. Because I haven't had a whole lot of exposure to things outside of my small corner of the world and haven't really thought about it.
I mean, a rose is a rose is a rose, right? And roses have thorns.
We do this all the time. We take what we know about the world and we put it into the stories we hear, even if it doesn't contextually fit. This is how we ended up with an image of a white-skinned Jesus, even though we know in our heads what part of the world He lived in. We look around, we see the majority of what we experience in our world, and we think that other things must be kind of like that. So we throw our own categories into the stories so that they make sense to us.
There's nothing inherently "wrong" about this; it's how we understand the world. If we couldn't use things we understand as starting points, we would never learn anything new. We wouldn't have mental boxes to put them in or to pull things out of to start figuring new things out. It's just how we're wired.
But if we operate only this way, if we don't get out of those mental boxes and grow them, learn new things, stretch our knowledge base and our imaginations, we miss out on so much. As I did for years reading this well-loved, well-known Bible story that involves far more thorns than I ever imagined.
And actually, the story I'm going to share with you tomorrow (because I wanted to create SOME measure of suspense for you and give you some time to chew on it) comes from a revelation I had while indulging in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: watching a marathon of Naked and Afraid.
How could that help me understand something new about God? Stay tuned; this one's good.