"Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me." - 2 Corinthians 12:7
My wife and I took a hot air balloon ride to celebrate our first year of marriage.
I remember being unclipped from the tether, the ground dropping away, the endless sky over the autumn painted mountains of North Georgia, the cool wind interrupted by blasts of heat from the burner to keep us afloat, the creak of the basket bearing us away. It was elating.
Paul's "thorn in the flesh" is a euphemism for some carnal struggle he didn't care to mention. Paul explained it as a way to "keep me from being too elated," too carried away by spiritual ecstasy. The pesky thorn was the tether that held him back, held him down, kept him anchored to this world.
If so, we can all be thankful for that thorn. It might be responsible for half of the New Testament. Not only did it delay heavenly rapture and keep Paul writing, it undoubtedly inspired his meditations on the human condition and our need for divine grace.
My wife and I haven't been in a hot air balloon since that day. It was exhilarating, but it turns out that marriages are built on planet earth, in and through our worldly struggles, showing grace along the way.
It won't be long before the tether is released. Until then, may it teach me to see heaven on earth.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first book, The Spinner Prince available now.