Have you ever wondered what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was? It sounds painful and irritating doesn't it? But what was it really?
There is one belief that God, in his sovereign will, gives people diseases to teach them lessons and will withold healing from people for the same reason and that was Paul's thorn! Thinking about it though, I wondered if this could be true. What does God say in his word regarding his character and his will and his plans for us his children?
As a definition I think 'God is sovereign' means that he cannot be dictated to. He is above all things. He is all powerful. He is independent (not dependent on anyone or anything for existance). God is at the top of the chain, but does this mean that in his sovereign will he could do things contrary to his word or his character?
Let's take a look at how God acts towards us as revealed in the bible with special reference to sicknesses, diseases and healing. Could giving his children diseases be the actions of a good God; bearing in mind that "our God is a GOOD GOD".
By way of checking this out let's look at the 'thorn in the flesh' that according to some people was a sickness or disease that God had given to Paul, in his sovereign will, to keep him humble!
2Co 12:7-9 And that I might not be exalted by the exceeding greatness of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn for the flesh, a messenger of Satan that he might buffet me, that I might not be exalted. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
Some believe this shows that God, in his sovereign will, gave Paul a disease to keep him humble and then refused to take this sickness away even though Paul asked three times! But does this fit with what God actually says in the Bible about his character, his will, and how he deals with us, his children? Does this makes sense....
Why do diseases come on people in the natural course of events?
Have you observed that in Deut 28:58-61 God says that diseases come as a curse for doing wrong under law and are sent to destroy people; not to keep them humble or teach them lessons. It may not be the individuals own wrong-doing of course; It can be a generational thing; but it certainly shows it not to be God's will that his people should have any diseases. Diseases came as a curse to bring death and to destroy. They didn't improve anyone's character! God took his hedge away and Satan brought sickness and disease.
Deut 28:58-61 "If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the LORD your God, then the LORD will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed.
We can see also that in the New Testament we are told that...
Act 10:38 .... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
So we see that sickness and disease come as a curse and come to destroy. They are part of the curse of the law. God removes his protection and allows the thief (Satan) to bring them upon you to steal your health, kill and destroy you. We also see that sickness was called, "Oppression by the devil!".
But remember that we have been redeemed from the curse of the law. Sickness and disease are not to cling to us if we have faith in Jesus our redeemer!So let's look at what we know and what Paul said and see what points can be drawn.
First; We saw from Deut 28:58-61 that
sicknesses and diseases are curses of the law and come to steal
your health, to kill and to destroy you, not correct you!
Just this cursory look at the idea that God in his sovereign will gave Paul a disease to keep him humble, or that Satan is helping God to build a Christian's character by making them humble, tells us that it does not bear scrutiny.
This is further shown when one looks at the uses of 'thorn' in the scriptures and see that it's always pointing to persecution by Satan's followers. We can have a look at Num 33:55 in this regard.
Num 33:55 But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and 'thorns' in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.
Notice that these thorns are tribulations brought by 'people'. You can also check the use of 'thorns' as snares and traps (tribulations) brought by 'people' in Josh 23:13.
On the other hand there are no scriptures where 'thorns' are shown to represent sickness. It's a conjecture based on the idea that Paul (a learned Rabbi) didn't know how 'thorn' was used in God's word.
Since the clear scriptures in the Bible use thorns to represent persecution this provides a better explanation of 'Paul's thorn' rather than sickness; That it was persecution by a follower of Satan (human or demon) in order to stop Paul from being elevated in the eyes of the people and having greater success in bringing people to God.
There is nothing wrong with being elevated/exalted, if it's done by God! See what God says in Mat_23:12.
Mat 23:12 And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Notice that God wants to exalt his people and that you are to humble yourself - Not be humbled by God. If you are humbled by someone else (even God) and it is not a function of your character or your heart, is that not humiliation rather than humility?
God does not bring sickness and disease on you to teach you lessons or correct you. If people truly believed this why do they go to doctors and try to subvert God's (supposed) will?
Actually if you are only being 'kept in line' by diseases and sicknesses and your heart and mind are not being renewed then your spiritual growth is being stunted. God would not do that, while Satan would want you to think so and have you not resist him!
In reality God teaches us through his word! God has given us his grace to put His thoughts and words into our minds and teach and correct us.
2Ti 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be proficient, having been thoroughly equipped for every good work.
You can see here that it's the scriptures that are given to us for reproof, correction and for instruction in righteousness. It's God's word that will teach us how to humble ourselves. God does not have to bring some horrible sickness on us in order to teach us lessons or make us humble. Our God is a GOOD God!
Now look at another place where God talks of exalting someone - in Josh 3:7
Josh 3:7 The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
There's nothing wrong with God exalting you! God tells Joshua that He intends to exalt him and that He (God) was the one who exalted Moses before him. So which spirit would want to stop you being exalted by God? Of course; Satan does not like to see God's people exalted. The answer for this comes from Jesus though. His grace is sufficient. God will have the effect He wants from your ministry, just as with Paul's, no matter what persecution Satan brings against you.
God's grace IS sufficient to bring all success and overcome the trials and tribulations Satan may throw at us!
Jesus has given us all power and authority over satan and his demons. They have been placed under our feet. We are 'more than conquerors'. What Jesus pointed out to Paul is that 'HE' had to command the 'mountain' to go into the sea; not be passive pleading for God to do it! Remember that Paul was not one of the original disciples. He was not around when Jesus told the disciples what Mark recorded under inspiration in Mark, Chapter 11, verses 22-23.
Mar 11:22-23 And Jesus answered them, "Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.
God's grace is sufficient. We have the authority and empowerment through the grace of God. All trials will strengthen us as we resist Satan and also provide the means to build up our faith. These trials are allowed so that we build patience and every godly characteristic that God wants in our makeup. We tell the mountain to go! We have to resist, not ask God to do the resisting for us, but when we resist Satan will flee from us.
You see while Jesus was beaten and tortured with stripes for our healing and by his stripes we WERE healed, Jesus did not say that we were exempt from persecution. Look at what he said in the gospel of John, chapter 16 and verse 33.
Joh 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Now some think that when Paul speaks of weakness he means sickness because he uses the term 'infirmity', but that word can be used to mean 'persecution' just as well. Paul used it to mean anything causing one to be weak.
There is a huge list of things in 2 Cor 11:23 - 2 Cor 11:33 which are all called infirmities, because in 2 Cor 12:1-5 Paul says if he wanted to give himself glory he could boast of his revelations but instead he would boast of the aforesaid infirmities; The beatings and perils and shipwrecks, etc. In Rom 15:1 not having a lot of faith is called an infirmity and in Rom 8:26 not knowing how to pray is called an infirmity. So we cannot assume that an infirmity is sickness!
Some people also think that just because Paul mentioned in Gal 4:15 that the Galatian members would have given him their eyes that he had a problem with his eyesight. But if I said that my friends would give their right arms for me, does that mean that I have a problem with my right arm? Exactly! It's a figure of speech showing their love and there's no special reason to think otherwise of Paul's statement.
God works in co-operation with us for things like healing and miracles which He has delegated for us to do. This comes from my understanding of Jesus' commission to us to preach the gospel. He says that signs and wonders will follow the believers, not just the first disciples. Believers are people who have faith in God, not a ready excuse to blame God when their 'prayers' to him don't work!
The reason given for signs and wonders like healing, is that they are to comfirm the word. But, what's the result if we are led to think that God does not always want to heal and sometimes even gives us diseases himself?
If you are praying for someone but are convinced by others that God could have given them the disease, or it may not be in his sovereign will to heal them, then while your words may be on healing your faith has no solid anchor. There is no substance to the thing for which you are hoping. "Maybe", is a wish that you doubt will happen; and doubt kills faith and people.
But, what was the reality for the disciples, apostles and believers?
Mar 16:19-20 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.
They had complete confidence that God would back up their ministry. They knew that they could count on God to be consistent. There is no variability in him!
Let's have a look at Acts 3:6-8 and see how Peter had absolute faith that God would do his part in healing; in fact had already done it.
Act 3:6-8 But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength. And leaping up, he stood, and began to walk; and he entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
Notice that Peter believed that HE had the authority granted by God to heal people and had the faith to act on that belief. He said, "What I have I give you". He didn't think it might not be God's will, because the power was in him!
Jesus said that as his followers went out they would, Heal the sick; Cleanse the lepers; Raise the dead and Cast ot demons. They would!
So Peter did not doubt that the man would be healed. He did not think that if he pulled the begger to his feet he would crumple on the ground in a heap because in his sovereign will God might decide not to heal the man! Some today might think though that if they put sickness down as God's lessons to men then they don't have to try to heal anyone!
In reality, everything points to God always wanting to heal and always supplying us with the power to do it. Healing is one of the things that Jesus' sacrifice brought us along with forgiveness of sin and peace.
God is the solution, not part of the problem! In fact by putting the power in us God has made US the solution, if we don't doubt!
Mar 16:17-18 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
So God/Jesus expects "us" to do the healing and Jesus was beaten with stripes to provide it for all. We have to command it though, just as Peter did, never doubting.
Mar 11:23 Whoever says to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
And, we know we can have and can administer healing because Jesus accepted to be beaten with stripes for that specific purpose.
Isa 53:5 But, he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
There we have forgiveness of sin, peace and healing. Jesus provided for ALL our needs including healing for ALL our diseases 2000 years ago. Jesus is not being beaten and tortured today for someone who needs healing today, just as he's not being chastised today so that as Christians we can have peace (Mat 10:13) in us. Nor is He being killed every day for those who need salvation. He's already done it for ALL people, for our forgiveness, our peace (shalom) and our healing, for ALL time!
Now by faith we receive what Jesus has already provided. You've already got it and God prophesied that you would have it!
Mat 8:16-17 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: "He took our illnesses (weaknesses) and bore our diseases."
Note he did not just take our sins and feel sorry for our illnesses. He took our illnesses. We can look at Psalm 103 verses 2 and 3 also and see that God heals ALL our diseases. And in the scriptures God gave many witnesses to the truth that He heals ALL our diseases.
Psa 103:2-3 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
Just as God forgives ALL our iniquities, He heals ALL our diseases. Both things are benefits of faith in our God for salvation - Forgiveness and Healing. God is GOOD! We can trust him for both; the question is 'Can He trust us to keep on believing for our and other people's healing or are we looking for excuses to cover our unbelief?
God has reconciled Himself to us through Jesus, so He's always in a good mood towards us. If we instead believe Satan's lies that God gives us diseases then unlike Peter, for instance, we won't be able to give to others the power God has placed within us!
Peter gave the cripple what 'HE' had! The power of God is 'IN' the Christian.
What else can we say to illustrate that God's "Sovereign will" cannot include giving people diseases?
Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself would not stand. He said this with reference to people saying he cast out demons by satan's powers. If satan is putting demons into people on one side of the street and taking them out on the other side, how long could his kingdom cohere?
Luk 11:17-18 But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? Because ye say that I cast out demons through Beelzebub.
Bearing this in mind, could God the Father be giving diseases to people on one side of the street (as some believe in his Sovereign will) while Jesus is on the other side of the street taking all their sicknesses and diseases into his body so that they are healed? If the kingdom of God is this divided - God needs to get a grip!
No; diseases come from the devil and healing from God. Look at what is said in Act 10:38.
Act 10:38 Jesus went about doing good, healing (curing) all that were oppressed of the devil.
Sickness and diseases are here stated to be oppression that comes from the devil. Satan's kingdom is not divided. Since sickness and disease come from him, and are oppression, they are not put on you to improve your character! Sickness comes from the devil to destroy you. We should be careful not to call evil, good.
Also we as followers of Jesus should be doing what He did; so we should be going about doing good and healing all that are oppressed by the devil! At no time did Jesus say to someone who asked for healing - "Sorry, that disease is to teach you a lesson!"
Another thought to consider is this. If someone was given a sickness because of how special they were then every time that sickness gives them a twinge would it not remind them of their unique standing in God's organisation? Might this not cause pride to rise up within this so special person?
Since this disease (whatever it might be) reminds them that they are not like the rest of us but are like the great man, Paul, would this not feed their pride? Pride perhaps draped in a false humility. Theologians could write many books telling you with great pride how God has given them a sickness of some sort, to make them humble!
Or, believing (falsely) that God has given them a 'thorn in the flesh' they could decide that their lot is to live with it stoically. This they may think is humility but the two things are not the same. Stoicism is their decision to be uncomplaining (except for pointing out how it's keeping them humble) while suffering from the disease, and is carried out in their strength and not through God's grace.
Let's now look at it from the level of good parenthood... What does God say about himself in Jer 29:11
Jer 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
If human parents who are evil but know to give good gifts to their children, infected their children with some horrible diseases just in case the child thought of doing wrong, would that be considered good parenting? Or, if you think it's OK for God because he can heal, bear in mind we are discussing a situation where according to the theory He refuses to heal actually. And, the human parents could instead just break a leg or two. They can always set them afterwards!
If you don't think this is how human parents should act, why would you think that the perfect parent, God, would go around doing this? Conversely, if you believe that God, the perfect parent, infects his children with diseases to teach them lessons, then to be consistent should we not believe that it would be good practice for human parents to emulate this example?
Of course not! To me at least it seems obvious that the whole idea of infecting your children (we are children of God) with diseases to teach them lessons comes from a mind that is not centered on Love. It's sick!
This is the opposite of God's thinking - God is Love! And so the idea that this could be in the will and actions of God is a non-starter!
Mat 7:7-11 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will
find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks
receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks
it will be opened.
Human parents would do anything to see their children well. They would even take on the sickness that their children have if it could be taken from their child. If a human parent would do this for his or her child, why would anyone think God loves his children less than this and instead of healing them would give them diseases? Which principality would want to spread that idea?
Just when you learn that 'God will not impute your sins against you', someone comes along and tells you, "But he'll give you a disease just in case you might sin". NOT POSSIBLE! GOD IS GOOD! God would not, just because he is 'sovereign', act contrary to his character or his word. In fact the bible tells us that God has elevated his word even above his name! It's what his word says that stands!
Now I could give another human parable to show that giving people diseases was not of God. It's not how he teaches us lessons.
Imagine that a Fire Officer deliberately set a building ablaze with people inside. Then when the emergency call is sent out he was first on the scene but did not get any equipment out to put out the blaze. Instead he ran into the building and brought the people out on his shoulders so that the onlookers would think that he was a hero! If CCTV camera footage was found showing that he had started the fire, what do yo think should be done to him? Should he still be considered a hero? Would that be a justifiable way to show people that they should put faith in the Fire Service rather than in their own ability to put out fires?
I don't think so!
If people need to repent of some sin the scriptures (God's word) tell us that it's the goodness of God that leads to repentance!
Rom 2:4 ... Do you despise the riches of His goodness, and the forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
GOD is Good. His goodness (grace) and his 'word' are what he uses to correct us as required.
2Ti 3:16-17 All Scripture (God's word) is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be proficient, having been thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God's word has been given to us for the purpose of making the man (and woman) of God thoroughly equipped for every good work.
We are also told that it's the grace of God that teaches us, not sickness or disease. Take a look at Tit 2:11-12...
Tit 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
Finally, Jesus said regarding getting our prayers answered that we should ask without doubting. If God the Father in his Sovereign power is sometimes (supposedly) giving us the diseases and sometimes withholding healing, then how can we ask without doubt? This reduces us to asking and 'keeping our fingers crossed'; but certainly not asking without doubt. And supposedly it's God who's causing the doubt! A kingdom divided against itself again if this were true! And, since we cannot know when he'll decide in his Sovereign will (as some teach) to give us a disease or withold healing, how can we trust him? This is a faith killer, not a helper. But, what do you think?
And consider this. God tells is through James that when we are sick
if we don't have the faith required to heal ourselves directly we should
call on elders who HAVE faith to pray with/for us. Now what use would
that be if healing was dictated by the sovereign will of God? It
could not have any affect on the sovereign will of God.
The reality is that it's our combined faith and lack of unbelief that decides.
We plant the seed of the word and faith brings into manifestation the
things God has already done for us. (See Mark 11:23-24).
Joh 10:10 The thief (Satan) does not come except to steal and to kill and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come so that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
Sickness and diseases are curses that come to destroy as Deut 28:60-61 states. If any spirit being is bringing diseases on us it should not be hard to work out which one it is (Five letters; begins with 's'; nickname rhymes with revel)!
But we have been redeemed from the curse of the law.
Gal 3:13-14 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Sickness also comes on us because we live in a fallen world with germs and bacteria and viruses that can attack our bodies. And, sickness can come as a result of accidents or man's actions. But, there is no occurrence where the Bible says that sickness comes as a blessing from God!
God's will is that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10, 3_John 1:2). God's will is always to heal as he said (through Jesus) to the leper who came and asked him, as recorded in Mat 8:2-3.
Mat 8:2-3 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Jesus said that it was his will to heal and Jesus is the express image of the Father; so we know that it's the Father's will also. Jesus was the exact representation of the Father. Jesus NEVER gave anyone a sickness or refused to heal anyone. So the Father doesn't either!
There are therefor no sicknesses or diseases in his people which have escaped the stripes that Jesus suffered and by which we WERE healed (Look for upcoming article - "It's in the Spirit").
So summarising. In 2 Cor 12:7 Paul is not talking about sickness. He's talking about tribulation brought by Satan. While Jesus suffered for our healing and 'By his stripes we WERE healed', he did not say that all persecution would be taken away!
Joh 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Christ has overcome the world. His grace is sufficient for us to overcome also. We overcome through faith in the blood of Jesus. Paul considered that the tribulations that he sufferred were just a light affliction compared with the glory that was to come. God's grace is indeed sufficient.
Healing is one of the things that Jesus' sacrifice brought us along with forgiveness of sin and peace (shalom) and so it's not sometimes 'yes' and sometimes 'no'. It's always God's will to heal.
2Cor 1:19-20 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us; by me and Silas and Timothy; was not yes and no, but in Him was, yes! For all the promises of God in Him are yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God by us.
We know God always does his part, in fact has already done it and has provided for the healing of ALL our diseases.
That's the kind of God that we worship!
We can either -
Tell your mountain to 'GO!' in Jesus' name.
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