Frances has tendonitis in her right arm, an ailment commonly referred to as “tennis elbow” (even though, as she says, “I don’t play tennis!). It is very painful, and a visit to the orthopedic doctor yesterday revealed to her a treatment for the problem that works in most cases. “Time,” said the doctor, “regardless of what you do or don’t do, you will likely get better in time.” One of our dearest friends, a physical therapist, has told us the same about a number of aches and pains, which reminds me of the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.”
Both the doctor and our P.T. friend would tell us that they do not literally credit the mere passage of moments as a healing factor. They rather mean that the restorative functions of our physical bodies, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” often bring repair and relief when given enough time (Psalm 139:14). God built into us this feature necessary for our survival, but in our present sin-damaged existence, the healing properties of our bodies are far from perfect. Time most surely does not heal all wounds. It just heals some of them.
“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” (II Corinthians 12:7-9).
We do not know for certain the nature of the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” We do know that it did what thorns always do. It hurt. More importantly, however, the lingering wound became an open portal for the entrance of God’s grace. Indeed, no thorn, no grace as particularly shaped and formed by Paul’s experience of pain. Three seasons of prayer led to a harvest not of healing, but of knowing God and His freely given favor in Christ that far surpassed the mere removal of a thorn. Lingering pain, be it physical or emotional, offers us such grace, namely, the experience of our Heavenly Father’s enabling heart and presence. “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
It is not inevitable that the wounds of thorns will become open windows for the entrance of grace. We must trust our Lord, submitting ourselves to His will when and as we move in such as way that our personal thorn yet again causes pain. Against all appearance, mental perplexity, and emotional inclination, we must give thanks rather than complain. We must praise rather than succumb to despair. And we must choose to expect that God will faithfully fulfill His role as “the strength of m heart, and my portion forever.” The life of faith is not for the passive, nor for those who forget the constant refrain of both Old Testament and New, namely, that the heart of God could never be fully known if His hand immediately and completely healed every wound. As Job declared, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth Thee” (Job 42:5).
When time and the healing process do not heal a wound, God offers to us an even greater deliverance. He offers us Himself. “I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10). Whether we experience such sublime grace depends on whether we believe it to be available. It is, and in this moment, our Lord’s still hand promises to us the grace of His heart.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)