Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

Cactus, chalk pastel by Tobias Mayer, 2022

For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me. 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.
2 Corinthians 12:6-7

Paul has just described in his second letter to the Corinthians a divine encounter he'd experienced some fourteen years earlier. He speaks of it in the third person, in general terms, and downplays it a great deal, almost brushing it off as nothing.1 It is not his 'Road to Damascus experience' of which he speaks, but a different, later vision. By speaking (writing) in this way, by claiming he is suffering a thorn in the flesh that keeps him humble, Paul is reminding his readers not to brag and boast about spiritual experiences, but simply to embrace them, integrate them and move on with a faithful life. This is a subtle chiding of those who would make a big issue of their experiences, real or imagined, where they would describe using many "I" and "me" terms, with a great amount of detail, thus indicating how special they were in the eyes of God. Paul considered himself very much God's servant, an evangelist of the Word. He appears to be completely disinterested in any sort of celebrity Christian status, as much as people would thrust that upon him.

How different is Paul's approach to that of so many evangelical Christians today, where celebrity status seems to be more important than the message itself.2 We have preachers and evangelists now behaving like rock stars or hypnotic motivational speakers, gathering huge crowds to worship...but to the worship of the speakers themselves. God is secondary. It's a sad situation—the secular culture spilling into our faith communities, and being welcomed there simply because it has come to be the only way we know to interact: leader and follower.

Observing from the outside I see people—in all aspects of life now—with a great need to be babied, to be told what to do. We have a culture that promotes infantilism and dependency on parent-like or charismatic leaders. We see leader-promotion everywhere, from the sports field to the corporate world. On every social media platform we have 'influencers', people who tell us how to dress, what to eat, what to believe and what to think, and we avidly follow these people, almost as if they are prophets of God. Few are, of course. Most are self-centered, self-promoting charlatans—and of course sponsored by various corporate brands to sell their products.

The culture of "leadership" keeps us immature, never able to become adult and accept responsibility. When someone leads us it will always be their fault if they lead us astray, or if their promises don't materialise. And then we simply seek a new leader, a better leader, forgetting entirely that humans do not need to be led. We are not livestock.3

We all need some of Paul's thorn to remind us to stay humble, to stay in service to God through the love of our fellow human. Indeed we already have that. It's called integrity, and it creates a sharp pain each time we ignore its voice. The problem is we have become desensitised to integrity's poking. We've learned to shut up that still, small voice. To regain some balance in how we live perhaps we need to wake that voice up again. Imagine a thorn.

1 Paul's Vision — 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 by Phillip J. Long, 12/10/2019
2 This phenomenon is well-described in the recent article, The virus of celebrity Christianity by Jon Kuhrt, Grace + Truth, 18/10/2021
3 More on this in my articles False Gods, 2015 and Leadership is a fashionable hat, 2016