I went to a prayer seminar on healing today. Luther J. Oconer was the speaker; he was quite good. Dr. Oconer cleary has knowledge and history in the Pentecostal traditions. I imagine portions of his teachings were new material for some of the more traditional Methodist attendees.
During the course of the day, Paul’s thorn was brought up by a member commenting on not knowing if God would heal, because God never healed Paul, despite repeated requests. As interaction with this same gentleman continued, it became apparent he was not convinced of God’s desire to always heal – maybe there was a purpose in his physical pain. He was willing to receive prayer, but spoke of being a “hard case” who had been prayed for many times before without success.
This well-meaning gentleman’s story is not atypical. Many don’t know or believe, or know they can believe, or believe they can know God’s position on healing. The typical person from American society would not postulate that God is the healer of our illnesses… that’s what doctors and hospitals are for (I have no issues with doctors or hospitals – they are ministers of grace and necessary for many people. There is no sin in attempting to bring wellness to another.).
I spoke up and addressed Paul’s thorn to the group. Typically when Paul’s thorn is discussed, it is to discuss not knowing whether or not God will heal, because he didn’t in Paul’s case. Paul’s thorn is often said to be an illness or sickness that Paul was told he had to endure – to keep him humble. However, the Bible is clear in showing that this is not accurately the case. What does the Bible say?
2 Corinthians 12:7 – 10: So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 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.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (italics mine)
While we can not know the exact nature of the thorn, we do know the “what” of what it was – it was “a messenger of Satan.” In his writing, Paul gives the figure of speech (thorn in the flesh) and immediately defines what this means (a messenger of Satan). He does not say, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a deep aching in my right side” or “a thorn was given me in the flesh, and I have endured migraines because of it.” Paul was very clear – a messenger of Satan. When we look at Paul’s life as a whole, there was plenty he had done which would give Satan fodder with which to buffet him. Paul was complicit in the death of Christians before his salvation. It is perfectly logical that the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) would regularly remind Paul of his past. Paul was keenly aware of who he was in the flesh and what he had done (I Timothy 1:15). We may be buffeted, accused, insulted, receive persecution and survive calamities – but none of these things is sickness. You simply can not find Biblical evidence to support that Paul’s thorn was sickness. (Please see my next post for some updated thoughts on this topic).
Additionally, it has to be noted in the case of Paul’s thorn, that while God did not remove the thorn, Paul was made aware of why he had it (to keep him from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations). So for those who say that “maybe” God is causing a sickness for some reason or to teach them something, but they don’t know the reason… well, then God is not doing a very good job at teaching them anything via their sickness – just something to consider.
But showing that Paul’s thorn is not described in the Bible as sickness also does not show that God is our healer. The argument for this is simple, though. Consider the following:
Exodus 15:26: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”
The Hebrew here shows that God is our Jehovah-Rapha (The Lord that Heals). It is one of His names given in the Old Testament.
Further, Malachi 3:6 adds, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
God is the God that heals, and God does not change. He also does not discriminate or show partiality (Acts 10:34).
We all take for granted that salvation from the consequences of sin is provided for all who receive the gift given by what Jesus suffered at the cross, but the cross covers all aspects of our lives: spirit, soul (mind) and body.
Isaiah 53:5, speaking of Christ: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
Consider it. He was pierced and crushed for our sins (spiritual healing/salvation). The chastisement of our peace was upon him (this brings mental/emotional healing – and is why we can say we have the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)). And with his wounds we are healed (physical healing). The word for “wounds” in the ESV is translated “stripes” in the King James. You may have heard the phrase “by his stripes we are healed.” The word for “healed” here comes from the Hebrew (Strongs H7503) râphâʼ, raw-faw’; or רָפָה râphâh; a primitive root; properly, to mend (by stitching), i.e. (figuratively) to cure:—cure, (cause to) heal, physician, repair, × thoroughly, make whole. (from Strong’s Concordance).
Christ’s sacrifice provided all healing – spirit, soul (mind) and body. Just because we don’t always see this manifest does not mean it’s not true. There are many truths of God found in scripture that are not lived out in the lives of believers. But does this mean God is not willing? No… in all these cases “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (see Romans 3:4). Also remember, we are not yet perfected. Jesus died for our sins, but we still sin. Jesus died for our peace, but we still have times of fear. Jesus died for our healing, but we still struggle with sickness as well. All of creation is eagerly awaiting the coming perfection (see Romans 8:19).
Jesus did not even distinguish between healing physically and the forgiving of sin. In Mark 2:9 he says “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?” Jesus considered the two (healing and forgiving of sin) to be two sides to the same coin… if only we could do the same! (See Mark 2:1-12)
The Bible says that as a man believes in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7). Our society, even if based our our real and personal experience, has taught us that salvation is limited to the “by and by.” That healing is for some, but not all. By the very traditions and teachings of men, we have put God in a small, limited box. Mark 7:13 clarifies that the traditions we hand down can nullify the Word of God in our lives, making the word of God of no effect. We must be careful… do we believe what we believe because it is our experience and what we have been taught, or do we believe what we believe because it is what the scripture says? What must adhere to what scripture says – it is the only truth, no matter what we experience that seems to contradict. We must believe the Word of God!
Does this mean that everyone will always be healed every time they are prayed for? Sadly, no. There will always be those who are convinced they are the “hard case” who won’t be healed. There are always things we don’t know or see that may be blocking the path to healing. But that doesn’t make God a liar. We should always seek God as if his word is 100% true, because it is 100% true. Whether it takes a minute or a lifetime, we will ultimately see his truth and we must not give up or lose faith on that journey. We may also be surprised at what God does in our life as we take that journey.