The story in the Bible about a “thorn” that Apostle Paul had in his flesh, some aspect of his life he was never freed of, that plagued him his entire life, is a story that continues to bother me immensely because of how often it’s used in this world as the answer for all the pain and suffering of another.
While I’m not a Biblical scholar, nor am I a religious person, two things I always feel the need to say whenever I write on subjects like this, solely because of the labels people keep placing on me whenever I talk about God or anything Biblically in my blog, I do have a spiritual view when it comes to Paul, specifically surrounding a “thorn in his flesh”.
For those who may not know what this story is about, it’s said that Paul was plagued throughout his ministry with some condition that’s never revealed precisely what it was, other than it bothered him so deeply he called it “a thorn in his flesh”. Paul prayed to God several times to remove it, but it never was removed, leaving Paul to believe it was a tool to keep him humble. This story has been used throughout millennia ever since to justify much of the pain and suffering countless others have gone through, which frankly, I haven’t found comforting whatsoever for two reasons.
The first deals with the reality that no one knows what Paul’s thorn was. Heck, he could have simply had chronic constipation or diarrhea for that matter, which annoyed the crap out of him (pun intended!). Or maybe Paul’s thorn was a person or group of individuals who followed him around everywhere he spoke and heckled him constantly? Or maybe his thorn dealt with a financial issue, or a skin condition, or a deformity, or loneliness in life, or an irrational fear, or something else altogether. The fact is, no one has ever discovered what Paul’s thorn was, yet it’s been compared to countless illnesses, diseases, and painful situations in one life after another. That has not and never has been comforting to me to think that the many health conditions I continue to face are simply a “thorn in my flesh” meant to keep me humble, when even one of them would do that job in of itself. At this point, I have so many “thorns in my flesh” that not only am I far beyond feeling humble in life, I feel defeated and am struggling to keep going. Even more so, seeing God as a Being that inflicts “thorns in a person’s flesh” to keep them humble only makes it seem that God is nothing more than a disciplining and punishing Being, and not one of unconditional love. Obviously I don’t find that thought comforting either, especially given I grew up with a mother just like that who inflicted many thorns in my side through her words and actions.
The second reason why I haven’t ever found Paul’s “thorn in his flesh” story comforting relates to what Paul was freely given once those “scales dropped from his eyes”, because it was then Paul felt a Presence fall upon him and within him that he clearly described as one of joy, that never left him throughout any of his ministry, which clearly helped him endure whatever that “thorn in his flesh” was, as well as all those beatings, jailing’s, and shipwrecks he endured as well. While I too have felt that Presence before, it’s one I haven’t in years, no matter how hard I’ve tried. The last time I did feel it, it came upon me not of my own doing and lasted for five days, during which it didn’t matter what “thorns” or pains I had going on at the time, because I felt loved and embraced so deeply by Something far greater than I ever will be.
So, while Paul’s story of having some “thorn in his flesh” with a Presence by his side to endure whatever it was, may be an interesting one like many religious stories often are to me, it’s never been a comforting one, especially having lived for a long time with chronic pain and health issues where the Presence of God has felt more absent than not. What has been comforting though through it all is whenever someone listens to my sorrow without judgment, held my hand without fear, or embraced me in their arms without hesitation, because it’s been in each of those moments where I’ve felt that Presence, albeit briefly, yet enough to know that God is still there, something that a story from the Bible, or any religious book, has never done for me, yet any act of unconditional love from another has…and always will…
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson