A couple Sundays ago my pastor quoted a Catholic theologian named Peter Kreeft, and the content of the quote has penetrated me to the core. I can’t stop thinking about it. Here’s what it said…
“God often withholds from us the grace to avoid a lesser sin because we are in danger of a greater sin. To avoid pride, he sometimes lets us fall into lust, since lust is usually obvious, undisguised, and temporary, while pride is not. So, to conquer lust, we should focus less on lust and more on pride. Only when we are truly humble does God give us the grace to conquer lust.” (Back to Virtue, 168)
This quote came as a huge relief to me, because it can be applied to just about any overt sin with which a person struggles.The funny thing is that it’s actually little more than a paraphrase of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7: “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.” But there’s just something about Kreeft’s words that get me every time I read it.
To explain why I love this quote so much, there are two aspects of it that fill me with great comfort. The first is that there are certain sins in my life that I just can’t seem to kick no matter how hard I try, and I often feel totally hopeless about it, like God must think me an especially bad Christian, or that my entire faith is a sham. This quote, however, reminds me that God is still in control, and actually has a purpose for my struggles. Contrary to how I feel, my situation is not hopeless. By allowing me one sin, God is actually working on another, and that is encouraging news!
The second reason I love this quote is that it gives me a more tangible way to fight the thorns in my side. After fighting and fighting and fighting, I have realized that my methods are greatly lacking. Fortunately, this quote provides me with a different battle tactic. All along I have been relying on myself and my determination to conquer my sins, but this quote reminds me that that is the exact thing that God is trying to fix! Instead of depending on my own efforts to fight sin, I must do exactly what Paul did and declare,
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That 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.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
That is the ultimate purpose of these thorns. In weakening us, they actually conquer our pride. They force us to realize that sanctification is not a matter of will-power, and that we are in desperate need of grace. Rather than trust in our own goodness to defeat the sin in our lives, God drives us to our knees with failure in order to accomplish in us what He wants to do.
I hope that comforts you the way it comforts me. If there is a thorn in your side, an unbeatable sin that you just can’t seem to overcome, rest in the knowledge that God is at work doing more than we can even imagine, and He plans to do much greater things in you than merely keeping you from lusting, gossiping, over-dieting, etc. Instead, He could very well be breaking down your pride, since that is perhaps the greatest wall that stands between us and intimacy with Him. In that light, the thorn that you hate so much may actually be quite a blessing, even a *gift* from God!