The apostle Paul was a man utterly devoted to God. You might expect such a spiritual giant, who spread the gospel to much of the non-Jewish world and wrote a good chunk of the New Testament, to have a deep, personal strength to carry himself through the trials he faced (prison, flogging, stoning, and being shipwrecked, to name a few). However, his own account of himself showed it was not strength, but weakness and suffering which characterized his walk with the Lord:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
-The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Whether Paul’s thorn was physical or spiritual in nature, it impacted him deeply; it drew Paul closer to God. He called on God three times to have his thorn removed. That was time well spent crying out in anguish to the Father who wants to hear us. Yes, He wants us as we are: broken, despairing, screaming and wailing in our pain and frustration. He does not desire our suffering, but He desires our honest selves. It is good to long for the end of suffering; the whole world is waiting for restoration from the Fall. Paul pleaded with God for removal of his torment. However, sometimes God in all His wisdom, doesn’t remove the thorn.
The response isn’t a simple “no.”
God replied that He would meet Paul’s needs. He spoke of sufficiency and power which would not belong to Paul. This brings us to another purpose of the thorn: it taught Paul humility. Paul learned to boast about his weaknesses. It is not false humility, but the act of rejoicing in true weakness, in dependence on God, which Paul exemplifies. Weakness is a reminder that it is not our strength which counts, but God’s. His power is made perfect in weakness. The power of the almighty God is shown through our trusting in His strength, rather than our own.
It’s humiliating to admit weakness, to ask for help, to abandon solidarity… but it is only the illusion of solidarity which is abandoned. Perhaps this explains Paul’s closeness with God, his devotion was a sign of the recognition of his great need. What a testament if we could rejoice that God’s power is made known in our weakness. He must increase and we must diminish. All we can do is ask for grace, like Paul, to bear the thorn.
So why call it a blessed thorn? It is indeed a thorn; pain is part of the Fall, but God redeems pain and uses it for good. We owe God a debt of thanks for using the pain, for bringing His blessing in spite of the curse. So I will boast with Paul, not in the greatness of my thorn, but in the greatness of my God who uses the thorn.