Christians like to argue over the nature of the thorn in the flesh, whether it’s physical disease or a demonic assault. My response: who says we can only have one thorn in our flesh? I have several of the chronic illness sort.
Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormone problem that can cause depressive moods. On top of that, I have inattentive-type ADD, which can cause meltdowns, especially if I get over-stimulated, and I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which again has triggers that can cause me to regress back to the way I thought as a child. When that happens, I’m stuck thinking like an ADD child/teen in meltdown, while also under the influence of the imbalanced hormones of an adult woman with PCOS.
These storms never hit me as a freak, random accident of biology. We have an enemy who knows our flesh’s weaknesses and how to attack us in ways that exploit those flaws. We further ultimately inherited them from Adam and Eve, who’d been corrupted by eating fruit the enemy sold them. So, yes, my thorns can be described in medical terms, but there is a spiritual war going on, too. With God fighting on our side, if we take refuge in the Lord, the enemy is little more than a thorn in our sides.
Rather than talk down to you, I’m going to assume you already know about the full armor of God. Even strong Christians can struggle with “thorns in the flesh” they’ve asked God to remove and God hasn’t. Some can’t understand why God would ever refuse to heal his child for any reason but that the child lacks enough faith. These folks tend to mind what the devil’s doing too much and mind what God’s doing too little. The reverse is possible, too, as it can be hard for the human mind to see affliction as simultaneously both the enemy out to kill, steal, and destroy and God testing us with fire. Any time God doesn’t deliver us from the fire, God is with us in the fire. When God doesn’t heal us, he means to use it for good every bit as much as the enemy means to use it for evil.
Sometimes, it is really hard to see how any good at all can come out of affliction. What comes out of me in a meltdown is dark, it’s terrible, it’s painful. In a word, it’s toxic. Some of that toxic waste had been locked in a corner of my heart, out of my reach, where it can’t be healed, where it can be gotten out of me. The devil attacks me for my harm, to use against me what he’d planted in my life long ago, but God means this for my good, to get it out of me, to get it healed, to get the good stuff of God’s word down in deeper. I am the one who must choose whether to sorrow unto death or unto life—and the devil’s strategy of attack in these meltdowns does often include suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Truth is my first line of defense. Only I put on Truth by going before God and pouring out all of that stuff before him, confessing what I’m thinking and feeling. If the attack is severe enough, and I am longing for Heaven, I ask Daddy right out to take his daughter home to be with him, but then I submit to God’s will and God’s plan for my life, whatever it is. That takes a lot of faith, and trusting God in my darkest hour is coming easier and easier, as I experience the Lord’s faithfulness to hold me in his sheltering arms through the storm—or gradually, gently lift me up out of the miry pit if you will. Further, God uses such trials to keep us humble and to remind us to stay close and reliant upon him.
So God doesn’t always heal us physically on this side of eternity, and this isn’t always due to a lack of faith. However, he always is at work on us spiritually through every trial. We can’t control God “by faith” and get him to do what we want. We can ask of our Father, hold our hands out, and follow wherever he leads us—or accept whatever he freely gives.