By Mike Leake
If you are not familiar with the prosperity "gospel" turn on your television and watch TBN for about 15 minutes. There you will be exposed to the damnable teaching that what the gospel is really about is securing our health, wealth, and happiness and our best life now. Consider these words of Kenneth Copeland concerning Paul’s thorn in the flesh:
Paul's thorn in the flesh is a tradition that Satan has used to deceive and rob many people. Using it as an excuse, tradition says that God gets glory from sickness because the world sees how marvelously the Christian bears pain and agony. Tradition never adds up to the right answer - anyone knows that the world has all the pain and agony it can stand. The world wants a way out of sickness, not another way into it.
The typical mantra of these shiny watch-wearing, jet-flying, shysters is that God is in the business of blessing people. If you want to see someone who is living in the favor of God you will not find it in a poor widow, a sickly orphan, or in a downcast soul. You will find it in a first-class flyin’ preacher that spends his time helpin’ poor folk get their blessings by sowing their seed into his tailor-made suit pocket.
Because of this belief Paul’s teaching on the thorn in the flesh is completely reversed. Rather than Paul saying that he is glorying in an unremoved thorn and that the Lord’s grace is sufficient in the midst of hardship these prosperity teachers do a ton of gymnastics to get around what the text clearly says.
According to Copeland the thorn is an “evil angel”. This isn’t any of God’s doing it’s all of the devil. Pain, suffering, sickness, all of those things must not have anything to do with the work of God. And according to Copeland “this evil angel was assigned to Paul for one reason—to stop the Word from being preached”. Forget that Paul said it was “given me in the flesh” for the purpose of “keeping me from being too elated”.
You see within the framework of the prosperity gospel God is not glorified in our weakness. God is glorified in our strength. Or to put that another way the way that God receives glory is when my past is conquered and I live in victory. If I am not living my best life now then I’m not giving God the glory that He deserves.
Copeland even has the gall to say that Paul erred in pleading with God to take away the thorn. As he says, “If you want results, do not ask God to deal with the devil for you…He instructs you to drive out the demons or evil spirits.” Had Paul not pleaded with the Lord to remove it then he would have gotten the results that he desired.
While you have a thorn in your flesh you aren’t able to glorify God as you ought because you are living in the devils defeat and not the Lord’s victory. Therefore, you believe on what you want. You unleash your faith on removing this thorn and you believe God for it. You let go of it and you start believing God for victory.
But what happens when "victory" doesn’t come?…
The Effect on Pain
The problem with this false teaching is that it tries to wipe away ever tear from our eye before we are living in the Redeemed Eden. That sounds nice and some of these false teachers may very well have good intentions and believe every word of the garbage spewing out of their mouth. Problem is, they sound more like Job’s miserable counselors than the counsel of the Lord.
What they are subtly communicating—and sadly I think many within the church have bought into this—is that God cannot use me until I have this thorn conquered. I am a little less than acceptable until I get a grip on this depression. Certainly people will rally around me and help me remove this thorn—that’s what Job’s friends did. But what if this thorn is never going to be removed? Am I supposed to hide this part of me? Should I shoe my thorn? Dare I walk with a limp?
You see I’m becoming increasingly convinced that faith doesn’t look like a man living in success and victory in the Christian life, where everyday is better than the next. I’m convinced that a better picture of faith is when a man is almost totally overcome by doubt, fear, anxiety but he still keeps a white-knuckled grip on the promise of future redemption. I’m convinced that a better disciple is one who fixates his eyes on “things that are above” instead of trying to live his best life now.
Of course we all want mountain moving faith but the faith as tiny as a mustard seed is just as miraculous. So, why don’t we rejoice in feeble faith? Why don’t we celebrate those souls that are shamed and yet trusting, like Jesus does? Can we celebrate a wound that isn’t yet healed? Why do we have to wait for victory? Why can we not dance with a limp?
Maybe because we’ve bought into the lie that people with thorns are a little less than what it means to be a disciple. And maybe we’ve made thorn removal the goal instead of dancing in grace.