Last year in a bible study with my sorority the age old question was brought up, “why does God let bad things happen to good people?” This question went unanswered as we all sat in a circle and tried to come to a reasonable explanation of why this “good God” we were all believing in and sacrificing our Wednesday night for would allow our friends and family, who were christians, to have to go through things like cancer, car accidents, natural disasters, etc.
Why them? Why so soon? They were a good person. They were a christian. Why not me?
Theses questions that I couldn’t answer plagued my mind for the next few months. I was getting so frustrated with God. The answer came as I was studying 2 Corinthians 12 and the life of Paul.
Romans 5:6 “For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Christ died for the ungodly: This is referring to Christ dying on the cross, the single act that tore the veil between us and God. The moment that granted the rest of us the free gift of salvation. This is really important to understand the magnitude of what happened.
We were still helpless when it happened: So the question here becomes, what is “helpless?” In this context helpless is in reference to the fact that without Christ, it is a helpless thought for us to be saved, for us to have purpose, etc. Weakness is a synonym for helpless, if I am helpless in a situation it is either because there are no options or I am too weak in comparison to my opposition.
The timing wasn’t random, Christ’s death happened at the appointed moment: appointed means decided on beforehand, designated. Let’s say you’re planning a party a years in advance. You have time to think about everything. What time of year, the location, the decorations, the guest list, the perfect outfit to wear, etc. I would say that when you have that much time to decide when something will be, it would be the “perfect time.” It’s only if things didn’t go to plan that the timing wouldn’t be perfect, right? So, since we know God is all knowing, and things WILL go to plan we can say that this happened at the perfect time.
So from these three truths we can arrive at this statement: Christ gave his life for me while I was weak-- the perfect time.
This brings us to 2 Corinthians 12; Sufficient Grace
“Boasting is necessary. It is not profitable, but I will move on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” (HCSB)
When I first read this verse I was like “What did I just read, I’ve never heard of the Bible telling us that bragging is a good thing.” So then I read the entire section and honestly it still didn’t really make sense to me why Paul was saying boasting is necessary, but if we look back a little further into Chapter 11 it all makes perfect sense! Here’s a little summary of Chapter 11. Second Corinthians is Paul’s second letter to the people of Corinth, the Corinthians. Paul was trying to plant a church in Corinth, but there were what he refers to as “super apostles” or “fake apostles.” He was using the former in a way of mocking how highly they thought of themselves. These “super apostles" were really well educated and could speak really well, but they were charging the people money for hearing the Gospel. They saw Paul as dangerous because they could tell the impact he was having on people, so they started rumors that Paul wasn’t a legit minister because he wasn’t charging them. Paul was mocking them because he had endured much more persecution for his faith than they had for theirs. While Paul wasn’t a good speaker, he had a lot of knowledge that came from knowing the Lord intimately. He was basically telling the people, “look I don’t want to be boastful like the super apostles, but if that’s what I have to do to get you to listen to me then I’ll do it.” Then he throws them a curveball and says “if you’re going to make me boast then I will boast in my weaknesses.” Then we begin Chapter 12.
He starts by saying he already knows there is no worth in boasting, it won’t get him anywhere, but he’s going to go ahead and boast in his weakness by sharing a revelation and vision God gave him.
“I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don’t know, God knows.” (HCSB)
The man he is referring to is himself, Paul was trying not to brag and still be relatable. I actually think this is pretty cool that he does this because that’s something that people still do; we talk about “our friend” when we maybe don’t want to share that it’s actually us for one reason or another. The third heaven is the place of God’s dwelling (the first heaven is the sky, the second heaven is the galaxy). Fourteen years prior to this would have been around 42 AD, which would have preceded Paul’s missionary travels.
Verses 3 & 4
“I know that this man—whether in the body or out of the body I don’t know, God knows— was caught up into paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak.” (HCSB)
When Paul wasn’t sure if his actual body went into heaven or just his spirit, only God knows. The term “caught-up” is translated from a Hebrew word that was only otherwise used by Paul to refer to the rapture, or when Jesus comes for His people. Paradise is referring to heaven. So, Paul is recalling a vision where some part of him went to heaven.
“I will boast about this person, but not about myself, except of my weaknesses.” (HCSB)
Okay so here Paul is refusing to boast about himself, this is key to note that he will only boast about his weaknesses, he refuses to receive glory for a vision. He was living for glory, but not his own.
Verses 6 & 7
“For if I want to boast, I will not be a fool, because I will be telling the truth. But I will spare you, so that no one can credit me with something beyond what he sees in me or hears from me, especially because of the extraordinary revelations. Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.” (HCSB)
Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh that was given to him so that he would not exalt himself (give the glory to himself, because he is flawed). He never states what this “thorn” specifically is. This allows us to relate any “thorn” we have in our life. Thorns are things that make us imperfect, things that cause us pain, things we don’t have control over (physical ailments- poor eyesight, ill health, a stutter, an amputated leg; psychological ailments- anxiety, depression, demonic oppression, temptations; opposition to ministry- enemies both inside and outside of the churches).
“Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me.” (HCSB)
Paul tells us that he pleaded with the Lord to take it away from him. Basically praying that God would remove the thorn, his physical ailments, psychological/spiritual ailments, and his enemies.
Here is where the question I spoke about earlier comes in, “why didn’t God remove the thorn?” Paul was an apostle, a minister and one of the most effective in history at that. Why did God let him receive this “torn” in the first place?
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” (HCSB)
Here’s the answer. God replies to his pleas and says that HIS POWER is perfected in Paul’s weakness.
“So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (HCSB)
Paul decides after this moment to boast in his weaknesses because it brings glory to God and not to himself. He notes back in verse seven that he boasts in his weakness so not to exalt himself. If God were to have removed the thorns, Paul would not have suffered, and looking back into Chapter 11 he says that’s what sets him apart from the false apostles. Having thorns makes us, as christians, relatable to the rest of the world. The darkness in our lives allows for the light of Jesus to shine even brighter. Having thorns keeps us humble and reliant on God. I really think that God knows that we talk to Him most often when we are in trouble. How often do you actually talk to God when your life is going perfectly? I don’t mean the casual empty “thanks God,” but really conversing with Him. Without struggle we would lose our relationship with Him.
This isn’t something that I’ve found in the Bible, but after studying this and looking deep into what might motivate God to remove the thorn, I’m wondering if we start talking to God just as much in our perfect times as we do our worst, truly showing Him we desire a relationship rather than a hand when we are in trouble if He would begin to trust us with less thorns?