…Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NIV)
There are many ways to interpret that scripture. Theologians and scholars have debated for centuries about just what was the “thorn” the Paul the Apostle had. Some believe it was a physical affliction, others believe it was mental or emotional, and still others believe he was a tortured soul who had issues with sexuality. Whatever it was, Paul dealt with issues, like most of us do. I like Paul, because he was flawed, but is still considered one of the greatest heroes of the Bible. And if you study the many heroes and heroines , the majority of them had some type of ” thorn in the flesh.” Moses stuttered, David committed adultery and murder, Jacob stole his brother’s inheritance, Elijah suffered from depression, Jonah ran from God, Mary Magdalene was supposedly a prostitute, and Saul of Tarsus, who later became Paul the Apostle, persecuted Christians. But it was something that God saw in each of these individuals that no one else saw, and they went on to do great things, in spite of their afflictions.
Yesterday, I saw a wonderful production of The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall. It was a fictionalized account of the last night of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life. What made it so interesting was that Ms. Hall chose to portray him as a flawed man, not the saint that he is often portrayed as. Instead, she chose to show his human side; the side that experiences doubts, fears, pride, and lust. The side that experiences life. He battled demons, like we all have. He had thorns, that he couldn’t remove and had to live with, just like we have thorns, whatever they may be, that we must live with. Who was more holier than Paul, who on earth came closest than Dr. King? He was a man of non-violence and peace, who spoke of love and unity, and cared for all people and their freedom, but yet, as he says in the play, “I am just a man.” He was a man who went on to do great things in spite of his thorns.
What is the thorn in your flesh? Maybe it is there for a reason; to humble you like Paul, to remind of what you should or shouldn’t be doing, or to force you to act. That thorn makes you human and connects you with others, because it is something we all share. Are you going to let it hinder you? Are you going to let it stop you from achieving greatness?