Monday, February 16, 2009

“Messengers of Satan” are a Necessary Commodity

We all have people, habits and situations in life that test us and our resolve to be patient and resilient so we can function effectively, despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. Theologically, this can be seen both as God entering or Satan entering our lives, depending on our perception, viewpoint, and mostly our education, not to say all views are correct.

Paul speaks of his weakness:

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.”
–2 Corinthians 12:7 (NIV).

The Amplified version states that the purpose of this ‘messenger of Satan’ was “to rack and buffet and harass [Paul], to keep [Paul] from being excessively exalted.”

The theology of Job is instructive in the same way, I believe, to what Paul saw in his raw experience. Job chapter 1 and 2 describes a situation where the LORD holds court with Satan (literally ‘the satan’) and agrees to allow ‘the satan’ to test Job, but that Job’s life must be spared in the process.

The satan believes Job is only an obediently, shining example of faith because he’s been so abundantly blessed. (See Job 1:9-10f.) Are we not the same? Intrinsically, we are by nature fair-weather travellers in the journey of life.

The ‘messenger of Satan’ seems to play an important role, theologically, and in life. Indeed, God used “Israel’s enemies to test them” in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition (see, for example, Joshua 23:13).[1]

Frank Matera tells us that the thorn was given to Paul by God as a “kind of divine protection,” to ensure he’d be spared a downfall due to an inflated ego from the “abundant revelations he had received.”[2] He was plundered for his own good. The beautiful thing is he boasts about it; it’s his only boast.
Enter humility.

Proverbs has a couple of great contributions: “Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor,” and, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” –Proverbs 18:12 and 11:2 (TNIV) respectively.

Humility is the charge to us to weigh and consider God’s input and purpose in the gifts he gives and the trials he allows. This can’t be put in any better way than the way Paul himself put it:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (NIV).

When we can delight in our weaknesses, through Christ--acknowledging and contending graciously with our ‘messengers of Satan’--then we can truly marvel in joy at life because we have the salvific ‘keys’ to his kingdom.

We can finally understand the veracious, exorbitant blessing of humility as we endure, peacefully and smilingly so. We are better people for it.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians – The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 240.
[2] Frank J. Matera, II Corinthians: A Commentary (The New Testament Library) (Louisville, Kentucky & London, England: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), p. 282.

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