The Apostle Paul And Compulsive Behavior

Paul was originally known as Saul, and was one of the most notorious persecutors of Christians. Along the road to Damascus God confronted Saul:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:3-4)

Saul turned from persecuting Christians to become one of the greatest Christian apostles. He became the apostle Paul. Other underdogs of God possessed some human frailty which made them unlikely candidates for the mission ahead. Paul apparently had none. He was originally a strong, powerful, persuasive, decisive, energetic persecutor of Christians. Incredibly, when God chose him to spread the gospel to the Gentiles, He gave Paul a "thorn in the flesh":

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. (II Corinthians 12:7)

This thorn in the flesh could indicate pain caused by some physical problem. However, it may also indicate pain caused by some psychological problem. In Galatians, Paul describes his infirmity as a temptation:

And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (Galatians 4:14)

Consider the following verse written by Paul:

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do. (Romans 7:15)

Compare that verse with the definition of "compulsion" as used in psychology:

Compulsion: a strong usually irresistible impulse to perform an act that is contrary to the will of the subject.

Did Paul have a compulsion? Someone suffering from a compulsive behavior will recognize themselves in Romans 7:15 as listed above. That is, what they desire to do (stop the compulsive behavior) they do not. What they do not desire to do (the compulsive behavior) they do. Most, if not all, compulsives desire to stop.

Paul may have been an alcoholic, a womanizer, or something more serious, if indeed he suffered from some compulsion. Whether compulsive behavior or a physical condition, Paul prayed for God to remove it:

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (II Corinthians 12:8)

Describing his affliction as a "thing" or "it" further indicates that Paul may have had a psychological problem. A physical ailment is generally accompanied by obvious symptoms such as bleeding, physical pain, rashes, fever, vomiting, disfigurement, etc. These are obvious conditions which we can see. However, mental problems may not have associated physical symptoms. A serial killer may appear perfectly normal in physical appearance. Therefore, we find physical problems easier to describe as compared to mental problems. Mental problems are difficult to comprehend since we cannot "see" them. Therefore, we describe these problems as abnormalities, things, weird, crazy, etc.

If Paul did indeed have a compulsion; then he made a great discovery, which is today part of all twelve step rehabilitation programs. That discovery was that he was not sufficiently powerful to stop the behavior on his own. He needed help from a higher authority! Therefore, he prayed to God three times asking that it be removed from him:

For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (II Corinthians 12:8)

Paul believed that there was no temptation, no matter how strong, that God did not also provide an escape from that temptation:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (I Corinthians 10:13)

Regardless of what Paul's thorn in the flesh was, God refused to remove it. Therefore, Paul learned to take pleasure in his infirmities:

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. (II Corinthians 12:8-10)

Paul's escape from his "temptation" was the realization that his weakness made him a stronger witness for Jesus. Thus Paul came to actually take pleasure in his infirmities. He realized that God made him weak so that others could see what God could accomplish through such a weak person! Regardless of how weak due to physical or mental problems, we are all here for a reason. Never, ever believe that you are too weak to fulfill your mission! The weaker you are, the more spectacular your accomplishment will be for God's glory. How did other Christians of his day react to Paul's temptation?

Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. (Galatians 4:13-14)

Would today's congregations act accordingly?