Saturday, March 28, 2009

Super-Elated with the Things of God

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Here is a verse that is commonly misunderstood on a number of points. It is often thought that, because of the revelations Paul received from the Lord, God gave him a “thorn in the flesh” (often erroneously thought to be a sickness of some sort; see Pulling Paul’s Thorn) in order to keep him from becoming proud — lest he be “exalted above measure.”

Let’s take a look at the Greek word for that, hyperairo. It is found twice in this verse.” It is a compound word made up of hyper, which means “over, beyond or more than,” and airo, which means to lift or raise up. Sometimes it is used to speak of exaltation, which might be unseemly when it is applied to a man. But there is also another way this word is used that can have a very positive connotation.
  • Renn’s Expository Dictionary of Bible Words says of hyperairo that, in this verse, it means to be exalted “in the sense of being affected by a feeling of supreme elation.”
  • Weymouth’s New Testament translation has it as “lest I should be over-elated.”
  • The English Standard Version has “to keep me from being too elated.”
  • The Revised English Bible says, “to keep me from being unduly elated.”
  • The Revised Standard Version: “to keep me from being too elated.”
For a human being to be exalted brings up negative connotations, and for a man to be exalted “beyond measure” causes people to think that a humbling is in order. That is what many interpreters have done with this verse. They read “exalted beyond measure” and immediately jump to the conclusion that what comes next, the “thorn in the flesh,” was given to Paul to humble him. Never mind that the word “humble” does not even appear in the text, but is simply assumed.

What is more, they often assume that it was God who gave Paul this thorn in order to humble him. Again, never mind that the text does not identify God as the one who gave him this thorn; it is called a “messenger of satan.” Unfortunately, though, the prevailing, and generally unexamined, assumption is that it was God who gave it and that it was for the purpose of humbling Paul, to knock him down a few pegs and keep him from becoming proud.

On the other hand, if hyperairo can just as well be rendered as “elation,” as many versions do, then the story this verse tells is more consistent with what the Bible teaches us about both God and the devil: God wants us to be full of joy; satan wants us to be full of pride. And it makes better sense of what the verse actually does say instead of assuming things it does not say.

“Elation” does not speak of pride or arrogance, but of joy and exhilaration. What did Paul have to be elated about? What could have filled him with such joy and exhilaration? The revelations He received from God. Paul was elated about the things God was showing him, and that is something to be excited about. Indeed, it is something to be super-elated about, as the Greek prefix hyper here implies.

Now think for a moment: Who is pleased when we are excited and filled with joy, super-elated about the things of God? Is it not God? And who is displeased when we are thrilled and overjoyed by the things of God? Is it not satan? So why should we assume that God would want to keep Paul from being excited and overjoyed about the things He was revealing to him?

Doesn’t it make more sense that satan gave Paul this thorn (remember, it is called a “messenger of satan”) to keep him from being thrilled and elated about the what God was showing him. If Paul was super-excited about these divine revelations, it could only mean bad news for satan. He would certainly want to deflate Paul, to knock the wind out of his sails. But if Paul was full of pride and arrogance, that would have played right into the devil’s hand. Satan would not try to prevent it. Quite the opposite, he would have done whatever he could to promote it.

The devil wants you to be full of pride and arrogance. God wants you to be joyful, exhilarated, super-elated with the things of God.