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ss triple helix - winter 1999,  The Thorn in the Flesh (Book Review)

The Thorn in the Flesh (Book Review)

The Thorn in the Flesh - R T Kendall. - Hodder & Stoughton, London. 1999. - 228pp. £6.99 Pb. - ISBN 0 340 74546 0

Every Christian working in healthcare would find this book a valuable resource. Dr Kendall has taken the sermons he preached at Westminster Chapel in 1998 on 2 Corinthians 12:7 and focused on eleven problems facing contemporary society. As individuals and in family and public life we are challenged to make sense of difficult personal relationships and events which appear out of our control. At the centre of how we cope is our worldview, and the author presents the Christian biblical viewpoint expressed so well by Paul in his letter:

'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' (NIV).

This book considers the question 'Why me?' Secular society has devised educational and psychological techniques to cope with adversity and it is not surprising to realise that many of these are based on biblical principles, even if these are unrecognised, for 'all good things come from above' (James 1: 17).

In introducing the subject Dr Kendall refers to his previous book The Anointing: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Hodder and Stoughton 1998) in which he showed that every person has an anointing. 'God may want to increase our anointing . . . he may choose to do this by way of a "thorn in the flesh". This will get our attention and is designed to keep us humble' (p1). So the reader is invited to share the assurance that God has not finished with us yet and he is refining us for a greater anointing for his glory.

To qualify for this special form of chastening we need to have a conviction of sin which often comes through the Holy Spirit applying the preached word. Then we will have our reward at the Judgment Seat of God which Paul himself so sought after (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). The paradox of the 'thorn in the flesh' is that Satan is involved in bringing our affliction (Job and Judas Iscariot) but God takes the full responsibility for its outreach. We must not try and remove it ourselves - it is for our good - the next best thing that happens to us after our conversion and anointing.

To the reader who is searching for insight into life's meaning, each chapter brings greater understanding. The relevance of the chapter is made clearer as Dr Kendall develops the application for many scenarios, and no one need feel left out. Jesus, who was himself the loneliest person when on the cross, may call the one who feels so lonely to be an intercessor. Unhappy employment may be a means God uses to make us more dependent on him and to crush our pride. We learn when we have an enemy how to forgive, how not to grieve the Holy Spirit and how to refuse to vindicate ourselves. A handicap or disability or any trial may lead us to self pity, but God uses these 'thorns' to drive us closer to himself.

In making a choice where we live we may 'pitch our tent near Sodom' as Lot did, and land up in unhappy living conditions. But like Moses we get our compensation in 'the joy of the Lord', remembering that the Kingdom of God is within. For someone with a sexual problem there may be temptation but when the weakness is confessed '[God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins' (1 John 1:9). Also with an unhappy marriage God is jealous and wants our attention. We forfeit our reward if we harbour bitterness. We need to stop pointing the finger and one day we may realise the thorn is part of a rose, beautiful and fragrant.

A chronic illness may be present to manifest God's glory in healing or in some plan God has to advance his kingdom. In submission we develop spirituality without self-righteousness. A personality problem is often the root of theological controversy. Even Paul and Barnabas fell out, and James points to the underlying problem - the tongue. We grieve the Holy Spirit when we are a thorn in the flesh to another by being overly righteous, overly scrupulous or overly submissive.

In the chapter on money matters the biblical injunction to tithe is made the basis of having our needs met, and when work is not available it is all the more important to thank God for the essential things we do have. In conclusion Dr Kendall quotes the saying of a ninety year old lady: 'I can hardly tell the difference between a blessing and a trial'.

The pastoral style of writing encourages the reader. The author gets alongside, empathising with the feeling, be it loneliness, a chronic disability or illness, or a personality problem. The reason for the 'thorn' is developed throughout the book with repetition of God's primary aim that we become intimate with him, but no facet of the meaning is left unexplored. The author shares his own walk with God and his personal experiences and the whole book is firmly based on scripture. The Bible is frequently quoted in full so that the meaning is not lost, and the book can be read anywhere. There are useful notes on Chapters 9 (chronic illness) and 11 (money matters) at the end of the book, but the book lacks an index. However, students will find much material for further study and are encouraged to think for themselves.

This review has attempted to distil some of the wisdom and comfort which is shared in the pages of this book, but the personal touch can only be fully appreciated when it is read. It could save many a Christian from falling into unnecessary trials and it encourages our praying that we be not led into temptation. The messages contained in these pages can be used in everyday clinical practice by the healthcare professional, lightening the burden for Christian and non-Christian alike. There might even be some who will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, for God can use many means to bring his chosen ones into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Reviewed by
Anita Davies
(Physician, London)

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