A Thorn In Our Collective Flesh?

A Disappointing Choice

Maybe it’s unnecessarily dark and dramatic. But I’m starting to think of tomorrow’s federal election a bit like this:

“So that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 HCSB)

You may have seen the Cathy Wilcox political cartoon doing the rounds of social media — the one with voters marking their ballot papers from ‘least disappointing’ through to ‘most disappointing’.

It captures how many of my friends are feeling about tomorrow’s federal election.

Tomorrow Australia chooses.

But by almost any measure, it’s a pretty disappointing choice.

A Thorn In The Flesh?

Which brings me to Paul’s thorn — and how this election and its aftermath might be the thorn in our collective flesh.

Whether it was a physical illness or a ‘spiritual’ condition (a besetting sin Paul was struggling with perhaps), it’s clear that Paul regarded this thorn as an unpleasant imposition. He calls it “a messenger of Satan”. And pleads for God to remove it. Repeatedly.

In short, it doesn’t exactly make Paul’s list of Awesome Stuff I Hoped Would Happen To Me.

And yet Paul could also see that God was using his thorn.

He could see God’s hand in it. See how God was humbling him. And teaching him about the sufficiency of his grace, and about his all-surpassing strength in the midst of Paul’s weakness.

Learning From The Thorn

I hope it’s not too much of a stretch to say that tomorrow’s election — and whatever government it delivers us — doesn’t exactly make my list of Awesome Stuff I Hope Would Happen To Me.

I may not be quite ready to assign it a satanic origin. But it sure feels like a thorn in our collective flesh.

Which leads me to think that maybe we need to start asking the kind of ‘What could God be teaching us?’ questions that Paul asks.

So here’s my list (for what it’s worth). Maybe you could add to it?

1. It could remind us of the ‘imperfectability’ of human leadership

We need to smash the idol of human leadership that grips the hearts of Australians.

Don’t believe me that we idolise our leaders? Think we’re too cynical for that?

Actually, our cynicism just proves it. We’re cynical because we’ve set our hopes unrealistically high.

Our crushing disappointment reveals that most of us want our leaders to do far more for us than simply administer justice. Instead, we want them to fill our lives. Give us peace. Security. Hope. Salvation even.

Maybe this election will be a good thing because it will sear the lesson into us that human leadership is not only imperfect but imperfectable!

2. It could help us rediscover the breadth of public life

Maybe the results of this election will force us not just to nod our heads to but to actively embrace the fact that, as
Michael Allison and Richard Glover
put it, “politics is about more than voting, governments and governors. Politics is primarily about citizenship – how you conduct yourself in the community.”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we went back to advocating for stuff we cared about the old fashioned way?

Not by ‘outsourcing our values’ — e.g., by voting in a candidate or party we want to perfectly represent our concerns. But by pitching in together. Using our different gifts. And making our legislators listen to us.

Are you any good at research? Good! Use your abilities to do some research about the things that matter to you — say … the economic value of resettling asylum seekers.

Any good at communications? Great! Turn the research your sisters and brothers produce into something compelling that wins hearts — and a hearing in Canberra.

At the very least, start talking to your local member not just whinging about whichever party they represent!

3. It could drive us to prayerful witness — maybe even martyrdom

Ultimately, Paul’s thorn to teach him that God’s grace was sufficient, God’s strength made perfect in our weakness.

It forced him to look away from himself and to the Lord — drawing others’ eyes there in the process.

And maybe the outcome of Saturday’s election could do something like that for us.

What if having some of our key concerns marginalised drove Christians in our nation to prayer?

To call upon the Lord instead of looking to ourselves — our influence, insight and strategy — to make things right.

To cry “Come, Lord Jesus” instead of plotting the second coming of Christendom in Australia.

Even to risk social (if not literal) death in order to testify to the perfect, just and compassionate rule of our Risen Lord instead of desperately trying to bend the instrumentality of our society’s organisation towards our ideas of justice and compassion.

Marginalisation won’t be fun. Neither was Paul’s thorn.

But a thorn in our collective flesh might be exactly what we need to rediscover that God’s grace is sufficient for us, and his strength is made perfect in weakness…

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2 comments

  1. Like Chrysostom and others I’m inclined to understand ‘the thorn’ as an actual ‘messenger’, a person, one of the super-apostles. Dunno whether that makes your reflections even more pertinent.

    Anyway. Tamie and I feeling pretty distraught, and we’re praying, much like your point 3, that this election will lead to a prophetic awakening of Australia’s churches, that we might truly recognise ourselves as the community of witness in a strange land.

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