Posts Tagged ‘grace of God’

2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

The authentic mystics of the world have very often exhibited what today might be diagnosed as manic-depressive symptoms and medicated to regulate normal levels in brain chemistry. Saint Teresa of Avila suffered from chronic nausea and long bouts of paralysis. St. John of the Cross experienced what sounds a lot like pathological depression, which he named the “dark night of the soul.”

We could easily lengthen the list, but the point is made: What Paul called his “thorn in the flesh” finds parallels throughout the world community and long history of the mystical traditions. It could be explained – as Paul himself appears to explain it – by interpreting the dark experiences of pain, suffering, and depression as a counterbalance to the mystic’s ecstasies and extraordinary gifts. But there is another way to see it.

It could well be that the apostle Paul and the rest were graced with revelations and spiritual breakthroughs of awareness precisely because of and not in spite of their debilitating physical and mental ailments. Paul himself testifies to a realization of the sufficiency of God’s grace that came to him while in the depths of his misery. True, he interpreted his particular pain or illness as “a messenger of Satan” to keep him from becoming too full of himself.

But it is possible that Paul’s mystical visions were in fact the benefit of learning to engage and enter his suffering by the path of utter release to the grace and strength of God, located through and underneath his own mortal weakness.

PSALM 4

Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
    You gave me room when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.

How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
    How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

When you are disturbed, do not sin;
    ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
    Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
You have put gladness in my heart
    more than when their grain and wine abound.

I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.

One essential aspect of religion is the human awareness of being morally accountable before God. Apparently there is a deep inner sense that awakens in us fairly early, that something is being asked or required of us. Conventionally this is represented in the form of commandments handed down by God, but it can also be understood as our innate sense of the human ideal within us, as capacities and virtues needing to be unlocked and released in the progress of our maturity.

The adolescent crisis is properly named “the guilty conscience” due to the conflict experienced between the natural impulses of the body and the cultural norms of society which exist for the sake of promoting the animal self to a fully responsible human person. And even though this crisis is most tumultuous in our adolescent years, the conflict between flesh and spirit remains a moral concern throughout our lives.

One thing we need to learn, though, is that there is a “grace greater than all my sin,” as the old hymn goes, and that God remains faithful and forgiving on our worst days. All that is required is our turn to God in surrender, devotion, and thanksgiving – a kind of waking to grace.