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  • Writer's pictureHelen Bent

A thorn in the side (17-07-20)

Bible Readings: 2 Corinthians 12. 7 - 10

Paul writes: I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

A Thought

I am always intrigued by the way in which biblical phrases have become part of our common parlance in the English language. The common idioms, ‘a thorn in the flesh’ or ‘a thorn in the side’ are typical examples, referring to a constant or persistent cause of annoyance, frustration or trouble.

In the present circumstances, some people might be tempted to say that Coronavirus, or maybe lockdown, is ‘a thorn in the side’. Others might use it about the people who flout the self-distancing restrictions, thus putting others at greater risk.

St Paul speaks about ‘a thorn in his flesh’, although it is not clear exactly what he is referring to, maybe an ongoing illness or physical weakness. There has been much speculation amongst the theologians. The phrase, ‘a thorn in the side’, is also in the bible, used by God himself. In the Old Testament, God warns the Israelites that the many gods and idols of the nations around them will become a ‘thorn in the side’, or a snare if they do not address the subtle temptations to accept or even embrace them. (Numbers 33.55)

By now, the novelty of working from home, home schooling and catching up on all the odd DIY jobs has definitely worn off. Many are longing to get out and about or go on holiday. With restrictions gradually lifting, it’s so easy to let down our guard. Many of us will have been sincerely praying for an end to the pandemic, and yet it looks as if we are going to be living alongside Coronavirus for a long time unless a vaccine is found.

In his persistent difficulties, frustrations and weaknesses, Paul looked to God and discovered that God’s grace was sufficient. What is more, when Paul was weak, God always proved strong, giving Paul a daily testimony to God’s sustaining power.

A Prayer

Lord, we thank you that your grace is always sufficient for us. When we feel weak or helpless, angry or frustrated, your grace is enough. May we know your sustaining power at work in our lives, so that when we are weak, you are strong.


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