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":
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:
Consider the following verse written by Paul:
Compare that verse with the definition of "compulsion" as used in psychology:
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:
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:
Paul believed that there was no temptation, no matter how strong, that God did not also provide an escape from that temptation:
Regardless of what Paul's thorn in the flesh was, God refused to remove it. Therefore, Paul learned to take pleasure in his infirmities:
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?
Would today's congregations act accordingly?