Healing Power

Running commentary on how Jesus' Healing Power is affecting my life - and helping me to help others.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Paul must suffer...

I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
- Acts 9:16, NIV

These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to the disciple Ananias - the man who taught the Apostle Paul about the Lord. The him and he in this passage refer to Paul (at that time, Saul of Tarsus).

Saul was famous in these parts for persecuting Christians. He excelled at his chosen task, to the point when Christ appeared before Ananias in Damascus, Ananias asked Him, "Are you sure you have the right guy?" Today's scripture was part of Christ's response.

Suffering is part of the Christian gig. Paul notes that throughout his writings. He had been arrested many times, imprisoned, flogged, shipwrecked, caned, stoned, and spent at least 24 hours in the open sea. (You can read this yourself in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27.) Paul learned what it meant to suffer.

But perhaps, more compelling to me personally, is in the next chapter of 2 Corinthians. Paul tells about the "thorn in [his] flesh". In the fist six verses, Paul elaborates on his vision of Heaven. He described how he will not say, "I'm better than you because I saw all of this," because he is not the one to be glorified. Then, in verses 7 and 8, Paul says:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me 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.

Scholars have argued for centuries about this thorn. Was it a physical ailment? Was he suffering from a loss of vision as a result of his conversion (Acts 8)? Was he lame? Was he suffering pain in some way? Or was it emotional? Was he clinically depressed? Was he suicidal? Was he bipolar?

I say it doesn't matter. Whatever the thorn was is not important. Paul's point was that he was suffering for the name of the Lord. And he goes on to clarify that point in verses 9 and 10:

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.

That last sentence is somewhat of a paradox. "When I am weak, then I am strong." Isn't all of following Christ a paradox?

  • "Those who are first shall be last."
  • "Those who think they can see are blind."
  • "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
These are mysteries that our feeble human minds cannot comprehend.

So, if Christianity means we are to suffer, then why do we even bother? How can life be joy when it is filled with suffering? Entire religions have been founded to face this question. Buddhism is one that comes to mind. Once you accept the joy that life is suffering, you are bound for Nirvana. Until then, you're doomed to repeat life over and over again in a reincarnated body. Nirvana is oblivion - nothing left. In other words, your only hope to escape suffering is complete corporeal destruction.

Paul offers us a different hope.

as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
- Galatians 4:1-7, NIV

We are no longer slaves to sin, but children of God. As a child of God, we are heirs to the throne. You and I are no different than Paul or David or Abraham. We are all children of God.

Next time you are down 'cuz life is treating you hard, remember this. Remember that there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness says you must smile all the time. Joy says you have a promise, a bright future to which you can look forward, even you don't feel like smiling.

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