October 26, 2009

God Sometimes Plays Rough
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Toward the end of his letter to the Galatian Christians, Paul wrote, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand” (Galatians 6:11). Scholars have suggested that this may have been because of a deteriorating eye condition, which was seriously limiting his vision. They see support for this in his earlier reference in the same letter to his “physical infirmity” (4:13), along with his reminder that the Galatian believers cared so much about him that, “had it been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15).

If Paul did suffer from eye disease during his ministry years, this would have been a strange irony. When the Lord struck him down on the Road to Damascus, the critical encounter that led to his conversion, his eyes were left seriously injured by the sudden flash of God’s glory. “Though his eyes were open, he could see nothing… For three days he was without sight…” (Acts 9:18). God sent Ananias, a leader at the Damascus church, to heal his blindness. When Ananias prayed over Paul, “something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored” (Acts 9:18). So the part of his body where God did a miracle of healing still turned out to be the weak part that gave him a great deal of trouble during the prime years of his ministry.

Could it be that God left Paul’s eyes incompletely healed as a reminder of his conversion experience, of how helpless he was, of how blind he was without a touch of God’s grace, of how much he still needed that grace now that he was a world-renowned leader of the emerging church?

Think of the parallel experience of Jacob, the Old Testament patriarch of God’s people. In a dramatic nighttime encounter, Jacob literally wrestled with a man for hours (Genesis 32:22-31). The “man,” who Jacob later saw as God himself, wounded Jacob’s hip in the struggle. This left Jacob with a lifelong limp, a reminder of the crucial moment in his life when his relationship was radically changed.

An interesting side issue in these two stories is that the life-changing encounters with God resulted in a name change that symbolized the destinies of these two men in God’s redemptive plan – from Jacob to Israel, from Saul to Paul.

Here’s the lesson for us. God is not into physical perfection. He cares more about character building, shaping people into his representatives on earth, chosen for a special mission. A cripple can reflect God’s glory, if his spirit is transformed. A blind man is not handicapped as a channel of God’s blessing, as long as the light of God shines from his inner self.

In fact, you would have to conclude from these two examples that God sometimes inflicts wounds in the flesh in order to dramatize the renewed and magnified person within. Physical limitation may actually enhance spiritual ministry. Paul spoke of this in his reference to his “thorn in the flesh,” which may be a reference to his eye disease, as the tool God used to keep him humble and focused (2 Corinthians 12:7).

God sometimes plays rough, but it is usually with a person he’s preparing for a special ministry.