Go into any bookstore and you’ll find the shelves filled with accounts by people who say they had an experience of time spent in Heaven or Hell. It’s hard to refute their story, but I’m always cynical about it. When the Apostle Paul was caught up to Heaven, he “heard inexpressible things, things that man is NOT PERMITTED TO TELL.” (2 Corinthians 12:4)
If Paul was not permitted to write what he had seen and heard, I’m skeptical about the stories of these other authors.It’s true that the Apostle John was allowed to see things in Heaven and he recorded them in Revelation, but I’m still cynical about these others. For John, there was no financial gain in the matter.
I find it amusing that Paul did not identify himself at first as the man who was caught up to Heaven. “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this man was caught up to paradise.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) [Note: Third heaven and paradise refer to God’s dwelling place, capitalized in my blogs.]
Paul finally identified himself as the man caught up to Heaven. “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.” (2 Corinthians 12:7)
No one knows for sure what the thorn was. But let’s look at the clues given.
- Thorn: Some people think it was a recurring temptation, a chronic eye problem, malaria, migraines, epilepsy, or a speech disability.
- Messenger of Satan: We see from the book of Job that Satan inflicts both physical and emotional pain. This may have been actual demonic oppression.
- Torment: Whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, the pain was real.
My purpose in this blog is not to debate the veracity of these modern books, or to try to identify the thorn, but to look at the REASON he was given the thorn. Of all the people on the earth, Paul had been invited to get a glimpse into Heaven. He could have easily become puffed up with pride, so God used this “thorn” to keep him humble.
Though my abilities and achievements don’t compare to those of Paul, I find that I have the tendency to take credit for what I accomplish. As God has allowed some of my abilities to wane over the years, I’m more aware of my weaknesses and my dependency on Him. What about you?
Have you ever considered that God has allowed the pain in your life to make you malleable in His hands? Your pain, though real, doesn’t disqualify you for ministry. Actually, your weaknesses may open more doors for ministry. Nic Vujicic, who was born without legs or arms, has been invited to give a Christian witness in places that those of us with all four limbs have never been invited.
Paul only was given a brief glimpse into Heaven. Jesus, however, lived there full-time until He entered our world as a little baby. Before Paul got his brief visit, Jesus said, “No one has ever gone into Heaven except the One who came from Heaven—the Son of Man.” (John 3:13)
It is amazing that Jesus traded living in the beauty of Heaven for the harsh realities of life on this earth. But He did it because He loved us and wanted us to live with Him in Heaven when we die. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) We were lost and Jesus came to rescue us. I hope you’ll put your life in His capable hands.