Sometimes well-meaning Christians can say really stupid things to those going through suffering. I know, I’ve personally experienced it first hand. Sometimes we can be trite in our Bible-verse-quoting. At other times we can simply put our foot in our mouths. I recall at my father’s funeral a well-intentioned lady asked me “What’s new?” To which I thought, “Well, this is all kind of new.” Of course the truth is that most of the time we can’t say anything to make the situation better. But thankfully the grieving Christian is not left without hope. For God tells Paul here in 2 Corinthians that He won’t remove the thorn, but His grace is sufficient for Paul’s needs. And it is sufficient for ours too.
For Paul this meant that he would need to view his suffering, his trial, with different eyes. We must remember several things that we’ve seen before in this series: (1) God has “given” this thorn, this struggle, to Paul. (2) God’s grace is transforming Paul in the midst of this struggle. The goal of the thorn was to keep him humble. So in light of these two key points how is God’s grace transforming Paul through this struggle? By helping Paul develop a kingdom mindset over an earthly one. Here’s how Paul responds, it’s incredibly un-natural.
10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Paul rejoices in suffering! How can he do that? Because he sees that through his suffering he is bringing glory to God.
This is the key difference in the theology of the Sparrow and the Heart from worldly theological beliefs and moralistic efforts. The theology of the Sparrow and the Heart says that we are to focus on living for the Kingdom of God. The world says worry about what you don’t have, everything depends on you. The world says that suffering should lead you to despair because your safety and comfort are the most important factors in your life. But the Scriptures calls us to be devoted citizens of the Kingdom of God, to live in its light.
This of course doesn’t explain all the details. I don’t know how my dad’s death can serve the kingdom of God better, nor do I know how my friend’s brain tumor can. And maybe we never will know. God doesn’t owe us an answer, nor does He promise us one. But when I focus on the Kingdom, then God’s grace is transforming me more and more to trust Him, to believe that He is enough for me, and to believe that He wants, knows, and can provide what’s best for me. The change doesn’t come, then, to my circumstances but to me personally. A kingdom focus changes my priorities from myself to eternal matters.
The pain is still real; Paul begs for his thorn to be removed. The heart-break and heart ache don’t magically heal. But we can endure because we see a greater goal than our comfort, our sustainability, and this life. We can live because God’s grace is changing us! The Sparrow and the Heart operate under a different mindset and all Christians ought to seek to live with that theology.