The Scripture where we read of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
I hold to a view of this Scripture which is perhaps not as common as the other views, but nonetheless, I believe it is quite clear when examining the context.
Paul doesn’t leave us with any doubt as to the exact identity of this “thorn in the flesh”. He goes on to say that it is “the messenger of Satan to buffet” him. This is a fallen angel that was especially assigned to Paul by Satan, and one that God allowed, in order to keep Paul humble. So this was really a spiritual thing first, and a physical thing secondarily. But how did this angel of Satan afflict and “buffet” Paul? I believe it is very clear in the context that it was through severe persecution. The “thorn in the flesh” was really a “messenger of Satan” sent to “buffet” Paul, and indeed, this is exactly what happened almost everywhere he went. He was buffeted, beat, thrown into jail, resisted, persecuted, and many attempts were made to kill him. A quick read through the book of Acts makes it pretty clear that in addition to great success in the Gospel, utter disaster followed Paul wherever he went. This is not happenstance; it is the result of satanic opposition which God allowed to keep Paul humble.
Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a fallen angel that followed him around everywhere he went and stirred up people against him to persecute him, torture him, and afflict him. And not only did this fallen angel stir up people against Paul, but also stirred up all kinds of other trouble (such as shipwrecks –let’s face it, it’s extremely rare that any man of that time would be in more than one shipwreck, yet Paul was in at least three!). This messenger from Satan saw to it that Paul faced the most opposition as God permitted him to face in an attempt to slow him down. But we all know that God used it for His glory, and turned it rather into a means of sanctification to Paul, to work in him a deeper humility and reliance upon the grace of Christ.
Just prior to when Paul mentioned his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians here, he had related to the Corinthians all of the severe hardships he had gone through:
Are they ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool; I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
The Lord saw to it that when Paul experienced great success in his ministry, that there was great persecution and trials along with it, in order that Paul could continue to rely fully on God’s power and grace and not his own ability or success. This is true of all Christians when God appoints for us trials and hardships and we endure them faithfully with an obedient heart to the Lord, trusting fully in His grace. We don’t all have a special messenger of Satan assigned to us to persecute and afflict us, but we are all appointed to trials (1 Thes. 3:3). Hard times teach us to draw nearer and nearer to Christ, and when we are at our wit’s end, and at the end of ourselves, we rely more fully on His power and He makes Himself our deliverer. This is exactly what happened with Paul.
This is my view at least, and while I respect other people’s views, I have to say that I strongly believe Paul’s terrible thorn in the flesh was much more than just an eye problem. It may have resulted in that (after all, once you’re beat up so many times in your life your body may just stop functioning properly), but what I read in the context here goes far beyond that! The context of 2 Corinthians where he speaks of this thorn in the flesh cannot be ignored. It is quite clear what he is speaking about.
In Christ -Josef