“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
PAUL’S THORN IN THE FLESH SERVED A UTILITARIAN PURPOSE. It was to be a simple reminder. Every time he thought about the privileges he had been granted as an apostle, the pain of his “thorn” was to remind him to remain humble. But Paul’s thorn in the flesh would not have served its purpose if he had not let himself be reminded. When he felt the pain or difficulty, Paul had to think about the purpose it was meant to serve. Otherwise, the meaning — and value — of his thorn would have been lost on him.
A similar thing may be said of the manna given to Israel in the wilderness. In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses said, “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” The manna was given to everybody, but the learning of its lesson was not automatic. Nobody “got it” except those who thought about it.
In the New Testament, we hear Jesus speaking of those who have “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” (Matthew 13:10–17). The point is not simply that some can see and hear while others can’t; it’s that some are too preoccupied with themselves to see and hear the truth about God. There is no such thing as a reminder so powerful that it reminds those who aren’t paying attention.
In truth, our lives are full of reminders every day. Both in our personal circumstances and in the wider world around us, there are numerous objects and events that should point us to greater things. Even with regard to the world of nature, Paul said that God “did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). But we have to pay attention and get the point. And if we don’t, we are the losers. If we fail to make the connection between the “story” and the “moral” of the story, then we will find it hard to keep in touch with God.
“Nothing happens that is not significant if you can only see the significance” (Christopher Isherwood).