The cane was still young enough that the thorns had not yet hardened off into solid wooden green. The sun wasn’t just shining on them; it was passing through their translucent young forms. The light highlighted each segment of the thorn as each color flowed into the next. The blood-red base burst into a glowing autumn orange that ran like hot lava into a lemonade yellow. The refreshing summer yellow slowly evaporated, leaving a sharpened point glowing white like hot metal fresh from the furnace.
I tried to get a picture of the phenomena, but none of my efforts did the scene justice. So, for a brief second, I just sat there thinking about the profound nature of what I had witnessed. I have been cut by many a thorn, but that day I was blessed by one. There in that quiet moment, I couldn’t help but think that even the sharpest thorns are painfully beautiful when viewed in the right light.
Most of us are probably aware of Paul’s passionate plea for God to remove his thorn in the flesh. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote these words: “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. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
The nature of Paul’s thorn has been a subject of debate for centuries. Yet, it is not the nature but the origin of the thorn that interests me. Notice Paul said it was a messenger of Satan sent to batter him. Doubtless, the trouble, whatever it was, was used by the enemy to discourage and dissuade Paul from carrying out his God-given mission. However, though used by Satan, the thorn was given by God. Therefore, it was a thorn that even prayer couldn’t remove. It couldn’t be plucked because it had been divinely placed.
This truth is far too big for some immature believers to chew, much less swallow. One may argue, “How can God, who is good, even consider allowing His children to suffer the pain of an embedded thorn?” The answer is because God is good; He allows pain in the life of His people. You see, in the hands of the surgeon, the scalpel always cuts before it cures. SO, God cuts in to cut out. God pricked Paul with a painful piercing to protect him from the much greater pain he could potentially inflict upon himself.
According to Paul’s own testimony, the thorn was given to humble him. One of the greatest yet most painful gifts God can give his children is the opportunity to learn humility. Pride is the most dangerous and deceptive of all sins. It presents itself as harmless and sometimes even robes itself in a fake facade of self-righteousness. Therefore, God often must cut into us to cut it out of us. But make no mistake, when He hurts us, it is always to heal us.
I imagine Paul spent many sleepless nights tossing and turning. No matter which way he laid, the thorn was there agitating the skin and pressing against the nerves. Yet, of this prickly bed partner, he came to say, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 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.” (2 Co 12:9–10).
Paul’s thorn was painfully beautiful because it was the piercing that gave him power. It was that undesirable, deeply embedded source of constant sorrow that kept him usable, humble, dependent, and blessed. In some sense, we owe our existence to his ache. Every gentile believer is, at heart, a rose that bloomed above Paul’s thorn. Yes, the piercing was excruciating; but more importantly, it was effective.
The most painful things can be the most beautiful things, but always and only when seen in the right Light. When viewed through eternity’s lens, these long-lasting afflictions are momentary, and their heaviness light. Even our thorns are painfully beautiful in the Light because they are seen for what they really are—gifts of God, given to protect us and prepare us for eternity. It’s against the backdrop of darkness that the Light and everything in it becomes most beautiful.