Does the Lord Allow Trials? (A follow up to Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh)

The article on Paul’s thorn in the flesh has generated some questions. To those who emailed me, I apologize that I can’t reply individually. I’ll try to answer the main points of objection in this post. Some of the emails I’ve received said that God did heal Paul of his thorn in the flesh. As one person put it, “God’s grace was sufficient, and that means Paul was healed.”

The primary point Paul was making is that when he was weak through the infirmity of his flesh, God more than made up for his weakness with God’s limitless strength. This is intended to teach us a principle of life.

It is hard not to be emotionally invested in a belief, but we must be careful not to explain away scriptures that challenge what we’ve been taught to believe. Every Christian group has misconceptions. Many of the things I was taught, such as a legalistic mixture of law and grace, have been dismantled by scripture. When someone challenges our beliefs, the first reaction is to fight against it, but I encourage you to examine the scriptures and see if these things are so. Perhaps you have a perspective I haven’t considered; but equally true is that I may have a perspective you haven’t considered. Don’t disregard the scriptures I am using but prayerfully seek to reconcile your understanding to what the Bible is teaching.

This is why clarity through looking at a scripture in its context is so important. The purpose of the passage from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 was to rely on God’s strength, and that our weaknesses enable God to show Himself strong on our behalf. Paul did not say he was healed. He said, “I will glory in my infirmities that the power of God may rest upon me.” To glory in our infirmities is not a declaration that we have been healed. It is a call to look beyond human strength and our measures of success, and rest fully upon God’s power. When we recognize our inabilities or infirmities, we are then able to rely on God all the more.

This does not mean that God does not heal. It does mean that God has the right to use infirmities when the greater blessing is our discovery of His strength.

This is not a passage about healing. Paul pleaded three times and God made it clear that the answer was not to come through healing. How can we see Paul acknowledge his infirmities, but then deny that God allowed it to remain? Let’s let Job testify again. Look at Job 23:10-11

10 But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
11 My foot has held fast to His steps; I have kept His way and not turned aside.

Job wrote this in the midst of his anguish, and gave this as a testimony to his friends that declared, “God will never do this to a righteous man.” Does God not have the right to refine us? Peter instructed the church not to be shaken when a fiery trial comes upon them as though some strange thing has happened. God not only permits hardships, often times God orchestrates these things for the purpose of removing the things that hinder our life in the Spirit. Let’s let Job again testify, Job 2:10

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

This is when his wife was shaken by the trials Job went through, and told him to curse God and die. Some say that God will never bring adversity, but the Bible says that Job’s statement was not sin. He said that God has the right to send adversity, and clearly credited God with the trials he was going through.

So is it a sin to make a false declaration about God? Yes. The Bible calls this blasphemy. But God said to us, “Job did not sin with his lips,” when Job testified that this adversity was from God’s hand.

The heart of the problem is that people measure good based on comfort and what the flesh determines as good. It’s easy to call the monetary blessings good. When we prosper in this world, we say, “God is good.” But when we suffer in this world, this is a greater blessing than worldly prosperity. To be refined with the promise, “I shall come forth as gold,” is not evil. The truth is, if we get everything we want and God meets our will as we demand His riches, our faith will be tissue thin and our perspective will be flawed. God does not produce spoiled children. He produces people who are strong in the power of His might, a people who are not shaken by this world, and trust in God without wavering.

When the church teaches that God answers our prayers based on what we will to happen, this shakes people’s faith more than adversity could ever do. Paul pleaded with God three times to change his circumstances, but God’s will was for Paul to be refined. God’s answer was ‘no’ to Paul’s will, but yes to God’s perfect will for Paul’s life. And God’s will was to weaken Paul’s human strength for the purpose of revealing to Him God’s perfect strength.

If we are taught that God must answer as we expect, this forces people to pretend they have what they demanded, even when it never comes to fruition. There is no willingness to acknowledge that God’s purpose may be counter to what we are claiming for ourselves. Then people either have to keep saying, “I have it,” when they don’t, or they are criticized with, “You just don’t have enough faith.” But when we teach people to trust in what God is doing, then God’s people walk confidently in every situation, knowing that on the other side of every adversity is greater glory.

Yes, God WILL sacrifice your physical comfort for your eternal good. The point of the Christian life is not to demand our will, but to die to our will and rest fully upon the Lord. We trust God to both heal, and to give us strength when the Lord chooses to use our struggles to refine us. Stop looking at the earthly perspective, and start seeking God to reveal the life of the Spirit to you.

Take care not to cheapened grace and reduce it to only fit within a fleshly perspective. It is commonly taught that grace means, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That is true, but you have to understand that the greater riches are not the things that are manifested in our natural / carnal life. God indeed richly blesses us in many, many ways, most of which are not bound to the physical world. Grace is also the invitation to enter into the agape fellowship of God (the fellowship that has always existed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The gifts of this world that come from God’s love are extras. They are not the purpose. If we only want physical riches, we are missing the true meaning of the Christian life. We are called into unhindered fellowship with the God who created us, and redeemed us out of our sin.

Grace is the love of God that removed every barrier between God and man so we could experience the same fellowship that Jesus had with the Father. Those who don’t understand grace still exalt sin, and rebuild the barrier by placing themselves back under condemnation each time they fall back into the flesh. Those who don’t understand grace make the Christian life about what we can get from God, and how God can make our life in this world more comfortable. Both of these perspectives rob us of the true fellowship God has invited us to be a part of. This is the only way we can live a life that cannot be shaken, for once we are in agape fellowship and grounded in grace, we’ll experience Romans 8:37-39

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Any view on grace that does not center us on the love of God will not stand when the world falls into chaos. Grace is not about getting what God has, but growing in intimacy with God. Or as God told Abraham, “I am your exceedingly great reward.” God promised Abraham many things, and though these physical promises enriched his life, the center of it all was his walk with God. If he only focused on what he was getting from God, he would not have been willing to give his nephew the best of the land when a dispute arose in the family. He was able to leave possessions behind because of his confidence in God as his reward.

To the one walking in intimacy with God, hardships cause them to trust all the more. To the one focused on what they get from God, when something they want is taken out of the way, it will rattle their faith. One teacher said, “The Lord gives, but the Lord never takes away.” To those bound in this mindset, they will never have confidence when trials arise.

When Job lost everything, his faith was not shaken. He said in Job 1:21-22

21 And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.

Once again, the Bible makes it clear that Job’s testimony was right with God. When he said that the Lord has taken away, God declared that his words were not blasphemy. Job proved that his faith was not dependent upon blessing. The worse things became, and the more his friends called him faithless and guilty of sin, the more Job leaned upon the Lord. In the midst of many days of religious people scorning him with many accusations, Job said in Job 19:25-27

25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

When his health was stripped away, Job declared his confidence in the Lord. While the religious community ridiculed him, he proclaimed his faith that He will stand in the end, and his eyes will behold God. When everything humankind holds dear was stripped away, Job declared how his heart yearns for the Lord.

We should learn from this example. If your confidence is in anything other than the love of God, when hardship tries to shake you, your faith will not stand. But to the one grounded in the rock of Christ, no storm can move them.

Jesus explained this when He spoke of the two men building their houses. The man who rushed to get into prosperity and ease, his house was built on the sand. The man who built on the rock had to study the word, dig deep into his foundation, and through steady growth his house was raised on Christ. He did not escape the storms of life. Until the storms came, both foundations appeared good. Both had to weather hardship, but the one founded on Christ stood secure, while the other had a great fall.

A Christian should never be dependent upon circumstances. We all want comfort, but in the end, we’ll be grateful that God didn’t settle for leaving us in the comfort-at-all-cost mentality. God wants you to grow in the life of the Spirit, and when the flesh is in the way, God refines us. We have a natural tendency to gravitate toward the flesh, but the Lord wants us to have an eternal mindset so we don’t come short in any gift. Look at James 1:2-3

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.

The word ‘patience’ here is ‘hupomone’, which means steadfastness, constancy, and patient endurance. This tells us that trials are intended to break the distraction of the flesh so we can have a steadfast faith. This is why we count it as joy. Joy is when we look beyond our circumstances to the good outcome we know is coming. Just as the Bible says that Jesus despised the cross, but for the joy set before Him, He endured it. The joy before Him was the outcome of the cross – our reconciliation to Himself. You were the joy that gave Jesus endurance. The joy set before us also gives us patience/endurance when trials come.

We should not teach people that trials come because we don’t have faith, or that God would never do these things. Then people are confused because when they are taught that trials are never God’s will, but they do come, instead of being strengthened through the joy before them, they believe God has abandoned them or that they are lacking in faith.

Don’t allow the challenges of life to shake your confidence. View life through the love and acceptance of God, and when hardships come, walk in confidence knowing that God is your strength and He is producing a life in you that is pure like gold. When you are weak, take pleasure in your weakness, for that is when the strength of the Almighty rests upon you. When you walk through life with a steadfast spirit, you will see the end of God’s purpose, and you will be grateful God brought these things in your life. God never settles for merely restoring us. He restores abundantly above what we have lost when we are steadfast in our trust in Him. Let this be your confidence!

Eddie Snipes

What Was Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh?

In my book, Stop Trying to Fix Yourself, I speak of the Apostle Paul and how the thorn in his flesh put him into a position where he had to accept a physical struggle that made him weak, but this weakness became his greatest asset. He explains, “I will take pleasure in my infirmities…for when I am weak, then I am strong,” referring to the strength of the Lord that empowers us when the flesh is no longer our focus.


Though I don’t believe this should be controversial, it has created a bit of controversy – especially in Christian circles that believe God will never allow a Christian to have a physical problem. Since this comes up frequently, I thought it would be good to answer these objections in a post. Let’s begin by focusing on an important principle for interpreting scripture. As much as we are able, we should approach scripture with an open mind. Problems arise when we are so emotionally invested in a doctrine that we cannot accept what is plainly stated in scripture. When we impose our ideology on scripture, instead of drawing our understanding from the Bible, it becomes hard to get past preconceived ideas.


We all struggle to overcome this, but we should also be willing to search the scriptures to see if what we are being taught is true – and to see if what we believe is true. Many misconceptions I once held dear have died slow and painful deaths as the scriptures challenged my ideas. Some ideas I held on to, but the more I studied, the more I had to let go of beliefs that could not be supported by scripture. When I say a doctrine can’t be supported, I am referring to looking at passages in context. Nearly any belief can be proven when scriptures are taken out of context.


It is argued by many well known teachers that the Apostle Paul’s thorn in his flesh was not a physical problem, but rather it was the persecution he endured. The reason this is important to many is because there is a belief that God will never allow sickness to enter the life of anyone who has faith. Before digging into this, let’s stop for a moment and analyze this idea.


Will God allow persecution? Obviously he will, for the Bible says that any who live godly will suffer persecution. What about physical harm to the believer? Even in the Bible, we see physical pain inflicted upon Jesus’ followers. Many were killed by the damage done to their bodies. So the logic is, God will allow a sword, bullet, or whip to damage our bodies, but he will never allow an infirmity to damage our body. Is there a difference?


As one teacher put it, “If Jesus suffered for it on the cross, we won’t, for by His stripes we are healed.” He was beaten, so why weren’t His disciples spared this penalty? Some argue that sickness is an attack of the devil, but so is persecution. Let’s look at the passage that has bothered some people, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


Let’s first dispel the idea that persecution was Paul’s thorn. In Acts 14:22, Paul has just been stoned and left for dead, but he recovers and immediately visits the disciples to encourage them. Knowing people may be shaken by this type of persecution, the Bible says he strengthened the disciples by saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”


In Acts 5, Peter and John are arrested for preaching Christ, even though they performed an undeniable miracle. They were persecuted and then beaten at the stocks as a stern warning not to keep preaching, and Acts 5:41 says they left the council after being beaten and began rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ. So are we now to believe that the other apostles rejoiced that they suffered for Christ, but Paul was tormented because he was being persecuted? He first encouraged the church to be strong because persecutions were something we endured on the path to heaven, but when it came to himself, he begged God to keep him out of persecution?


Don’t forget that when God called Paul, his ministry began with God telling him, “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) Every apostle was persecuted heavily. Every apostle except John was tortured and killed because they would not stop telling people about the new life of the Spirit through Christ. But even John was beaten, persecuted, and banned to a penal colony, isolated from the church on the isle of Patmos for his faith.


It’s undeniable that persecution was part of the early church, and has been a part of the church for thousands of years. In many countries, Christians are being tortured and killed for their faith even as I write. In Hebrews 11:35 we are told that many believers refused to accept deliverance, knowing they would obtain a better resurrection. Does God allow His children to suffer? Why? Not one thing that is lost in this life has value. We are giving up health, life, and possessions for the sake of Christ, knowing that what God returns to us is far better than what we lose.


Paul’s thorn of the flesh is NOT persecutions, though he was persecuted. Let’s go back and look at Paul’s conclusion concerning his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:

 9b Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.


Persecutions are mentioned. So is needs. So is distress. More importantly, so are infirmities. It was the first thing Paul mentions. Infirmity is mentioned 13 times in the New Testament. 100% of the time it is referring to a physical problem. In fact, the word infirmity (astheneia in the Greek) means physical frailty, feebleness of health, illness, disease, or sickness. It does not mean persecution. By Paul’s own testimony, his infirmity was an attack of Satan, but was actually a gift of God to produce weakness so he learned to receive the strength of the Spirit – which was far better.


According to Paul, pride was a struggle, and so he didn’t get lifted up in pride, God gave him a thorn in the flesh. I know this flies in the face of the belief system of many who say God will never inflict a believer, but as we shall see, this is not what the Bible teaches. We’ll look at another example in a moment, but let’s see how Paul discusses his own infirmity.


In Galatians 4:13, Paul says that he preached to them through his physical infirmity. Some translations say ‘because of physical infirmity’, but the word is ‘dia’, which means ‘through or with’. Either way, Paul clearly says it was a physical infirmity. In Galatians 4:14 Paul again affirms this by saying, “My trial that was in my flesh, you did not despise or reject.” Let me reiterate this. Paul said, “I preached to you through physical infirmity/illness, and you did not reject the trial that was in my flesh.” There is no way to escape the truth that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a physical problem that people could see, and some rejected him because of it – but not those who believed his preaching in Galatia.


Paul then gives a clue as to what that infirmity could be in the very next verse. “For I bear witness that if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me.” If you read the full context of Paul’s discussion, he makes it clear that the people he reached with the gospel did not turn away from Paul because of the infirmity of his flesh, but as they grew to love Paul, in their compassion, they wanted to take away his thorn, and if they could have, they loved him enough to give him their own eyes to ease his infirmity. There is no other reason they would have wanted to give Paul their own eyes.


Let’s throw another monkey wrench into this doctrine that limits God’s authority to use the flesh as He chooses. Look at Exodus 4:11

So the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?


Who made the mute, the deaf, and the blind? According to God’s own word, He did. According to Psalm 139, God knit us together in the womb, and we are made exactly as God intended. Why does God allow disabilities at birth? He doesn’t always give the answer, but He does assure is that whatever we miss in this life, becomes a better resurrection in the life to come.


Then there is Job. Job went through immense suffering from the hand of Satan, but who began this challenge? Look at Job 1:8

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”


God challenged Satan to consider Job’s faithfulness, and then God permitted Satan to afflict him, but with specific boundaries. God allowed Satan to rob Job of everything, including his health.


Job’s friends accused him of having secret sin or some reason that this evil came upon him. They said, “God would never do this to a righteous man.” They all were very religious, and one even said, “The Lord said to me,” and then gave Job counsel from his own heart while claiming it was the word of God. All three of Job’s friends rebuked Job for claiming he was standing upon faith. Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him,” and expressed his confidence that in the end, God would rescue him. The only thing Job said wrong was, “When I see God, I’m going to ask why.” Then when God appeared, God said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” God then asks Job where he was when the earth was founded. Since Job was wise enough to question God, the Lord asked him questions and says, “Tell Me, if you have understanding. The one who corrects the Almighty, let him answer it.”


That was the moment Job understood that God had the right to do as He pleased. He also found out that what God permits Satan to steal, He abundantly restores. Job received ten times what he lost, for God’s goal was always to bless. Through the infirmity of Job’s flesh, he suffered, but that suffering established him in the Lord’s strength, and made it clear that all good comes through God, and Satan has no power to defeat God’s will for Job’s life.


To Job’s friends, the ones who said, “God would never do this,” God said in Job 42:7

And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.


God made Job’s friends, the ones who claimed to be wise counselors and condemned the suffering Job, to come and submit to Job. God said He would not even hear their prayers, but Job had to petition for them before they would be forgiven.


Similar situations happen in the church today. When my grandfather was dying of cancer, the church heaped the burden of guilt upon them by saying things like, “There must be secret sin in his life.” To my grandmother, one person said, “You are the reason he is dying. If you had enough faith, you could raise him off that bed.”


Is this what the Bible teaches? That we should condemn the sick? Does the Bible teach us to criticize people for not having enough faith? Or does it teach us to bear one another’s burdens. I have many friends in various healing movements. One thing they all have in common is scolding the ailing. If someone gets a cold, they are the first to tell them they shouldn’t be sick. If I had a prayer need, I wouldn’t tell them because I would hear how I shouldn’t have a need – I just don’t have enough faith.


Have they never read the letters the Apostles sent to the churches? Nearly every letter expresses prayer needs. When imprisoned, Paul pleaded for the church to send him a cloak before winter. He praised the Philippian church for meeting his needs.


What about 2 Timothy 4:20 where Paul said he had to leave one of his missionary helpers in Miletus because he was sick? Or what about Philippians 2 when Paul talks about his companion, Epaphroditus who became very sick and almost died? Or what about 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul tells Timothy to drink a little wine because of his stomach problems, and his frequent infirmities?


Do you know one thing that is missing in all these accounts of sickness in the Bible? Not one time does a minister of God condemn the sick, nor do they tell them they shouldn’t be sick. Does God heal? Absolutely. I have friends that were miraculously healed. I have a relative that had terminal cancer as a baby. The doctors gave up and called the family in to say their good-byes. They gathered and prayed, and the child was instantly healed. Nearly 50 years later, he is still healthy and cancer-free. I have a friend of the family that had cancer of the mouth. She is not active in church and is not part of any healing ministry. The night before she was to go in for surgery, she poured her heart out to the Lord. When she went in the next morning, cancer could not be found.


Yet others pray, claim divine health, and do all the right things according to what people teach, but are not healed. Why? According to the book of James, the prayer of faith will heal the sick. I’ll also add that the elders are responsible for praying for the sick, and no where do we see the church condemning the sick. But also keep in mind that the Bible says that God deals each person a measure of faith and that faith is a gift of the Spirit. Faith is not produced by man. You can’t muster up enough human faith to do the work of the Spirit.


God did not explain why Paul could miraculously heal the unchurched people he encountered in Acts 28:8-9, but did not give Paul the power to heal Epaphraditus, Timothy, or Trophimus. Indeed we should pray for the sick with expectation, but ultimately healing is a gift of the Spirit and is according to a purpose we, like Job, cannot see.


People put God into a box, and then they have to explain away scriptures that don’t fit in that box. Because of doctrines like these, people are distracted from the truth. Instead of seeking God, they are seeking their will. Paul struggled with this. Three times he begged God to heal him, but God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”


Sadly, the teachings of some cause people to reject this. Instead of walking by faith, they are demanding their own will. Unless God gives them the miracle they demand, they are paralyzed in their walk, and if God doesn’t give them the answer they want, their life becomes one of confusion, disappointment, and frustration.


Expect the miraculous, but don’t forget that the miraculous might be God’s strength in your weakness. Don’t short-change yourself by demanding the strength of the physical when God is calling you into the power of the Spirit.


Eddie Snipes 2015