Rubber Bullets

“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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

In a recent interview on Desiring God, author Nancy Guthrie quipped that the phrase “my grace is sufficient for you” sounded more like a condescending “there, there” with a pat on the head than anything resembling comfort.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing Christianity to be nothing more than some pious form of stiff-lipped stoicism. We should be so content in God that suffering and pain should bounce off of us like rubber bullets, right?

But in this passage, Paul is not advocating Zen Buddhism. He’s earnestly pleading to God for his thorn to be removed. He wants it gone. And God, instead of granting what he wants, tells him that his grace will be enough. There’s something deep going on here. God is not looking at Paul’s gaping wound and offering a band-aid. He is a surgeon committed to removing a malignant tumor of pride.

What Paul wants is relief, but what Paul needs is humility. And when Paul does humble himself, something striking happens – he finds relief. He discovers the one of the gems of the Christian faith: weakness is strength. This is how God’s economy works. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

God’s grace is not only sufficient, but it is better. It is better for Paul to have this thorn in the flesh and learn humility, than to be healthy and full of conceit. It is better to be in the house of mourning. It is better to cut off your right hand than have your whole body cast into hell.

The Gospel is absolutely counter-intuitive in nature. You want the seat of honor? Take the lowest seat. You want to be exalted? Humble yourself. You want life? Give your life away.

This is not an example of God being unfaithful. This is not God backing out of his promise to give a snake when his son asks for a fish. This is God acting swiftly in deliverance. This is God showing mercy and compassion. This is God providing for Paul’s needs.

This is God doing more than Paul could think or ask.

“That’s how God works. He gets at our most fundamental idolatry and He ruthlessly crushes it in His unfathomable love and fatherly kindness and inscrutable wisdom and He goes after our greatest treasures and He leaves us with nothing but himself so that we go limping on our way for the rest of our lives having learned: ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my power is perfected in weakness.’ Don’t underestimate God. Don’t underestimate His ruthless compassionate gracious commitment to His glory or His commitment to your everlasting joy and good. He will pursue you graciously and ruthlessly and rip out the idols of your soul that would otherwise consume you. He is working for your joy and your good even when you cannot perceive it and have ceased to be able to feel anything anymore.” – Ligon Duncan