Admit it. You think about Heaven a lot.
The much quoted C.S. Lewis wrote; “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”
What if the Lord gave you the opportunity to have a glimpse into heaven? Would you take it?
What if that glimpse came with a price … a persistent and painful thorn in the flesh that would last a life-time here on earth?
Would you still want that glimpse?
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes about a strange and much debated vision.
He writes about a man who was suddenly transported into paradise. The things he heard were so astonishing he was not allowed to repeat them (2 Corinthians 12:1-6).
Most conservative Bible scholars believe the man who had the vision of heaven was Paul himself. In verse seven, Paul writes; “And lest I should be exalted above measure of revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
With the glorious and indescribable vision came a persistent vexation—a thorn in the flesh.
The thorn was described as a messenger of Satan.
There is something remarkable about the passage we sometimes overlook; it is the distance between the throne of heaven and the thorn sent by Satan.
Paul prayed and pleaded for the painful and persistent thorn’s removal.
The Lord’s answer was in effect, “No.”
The glimpse of heaven apparently made Paul a target for conceit and pride. Visions and revelations sometimes come with a price.
There are several things in the verse that should cause the reader to take pause. A vision of heaven does not always make the persistent pain of the present go away. Even after a journey to heaven Paul remains a man of flesh and blood. Paul still faced the temptations of pride and conceit. The revelation of heaven might cause Paul to go over the ministry cliff.
Scholars debate the identity of this thorn. Calvin thought it was spiritual temptations—the urge Paul may have had to doubt his faith. Luther thought it might refer to temptations or persecutions. Some suggest sexual temptations because Paul was celibate. Others suggest disfigurement or epilepsy or severe headaches or chronic eye infections.
Whatever it was—it was more than just inconvenient. It appears to be painful and persistent.
The Holy Spirit may have left the passage purposely vague for personal application.
What is your thorn? One famous Bible expositor (Lenski) wrote; “We have the idea of something sharp and painful sticking deeply in the flesh so that it remains there and cannot be drawn out …” Ouch.
Why isn’t there a united consensus on the identity of Paul’s thorn? Could it be the Holy Spirit has chosen not to reveal its identity in order to not limit its application in our own lives?
What is your thorn? We are sometimes reluctant to admit our hero Paul may have had a disability, or a constant blow to his pride or a continual temptation!
God may allow an ongoing disability or a constant blow to our pride or an ongoing temptation so that we will rely on his grace, mercy and strength. We are sometimes brought to a place where submission and humility are no longer simply an option—but the only course of action.
In the end the answer Jesus gives Paul is an answer for all of us with a persistent thorn, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
The divine paradox calls to us; the way up is the way down. The way of strength is the way of weakness. With a vision of Heaven and a throne—comes the persistent and painful reality of the here and now—a thorn.
Do you still want a peek into Heaven? With the peek may come a poke—to keep us humble and dependent on our Lord Jesus.