Online Bible Commentary
Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
2 Corinthians 12: 7 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. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (NKJV)
Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, is writing of his experiences of going from the highest of highs to a low in his life. In the preceding passage he wrote of the “mountaintop” experience when God gave him a taste of Heaven. Now he is writing of a hardship that has been plaguing him.
He states that God has allowed “a messenger of Satan” to “buffet” him to keep him from being “exalted above measure”, conceited, about the unique favor God had bestowed upon him. Paul calls the hardship “a thorn in my flesh” (v. 7).
The Holy Land is often called “the land of thorns” because they are prevalent everywhere. Some thorn plants there can grow to as high as ten to twelve feet. Paul’s hardship was one of great dimensions.
The word translated “buffet” in verse seven is the Greek word “kolaphizo”, which also means to strike with fists or beat. Therefore, this could point to some type of physical injury inflicted upon Paul, rather that an illness or disease.
Paul states that the thorn was given to him “by a messenger of Satan”. He was stoned almost to the point of death, in Lystra, on his first missionary journey. Perhaps an injury occurred as a result of the stoning, which was caused by satanic forces working against the spread of the gospel.
The Apostle Luke was a medical doctor and a good friend of Paul’s. He met up with Paul in Troas on Paul’s second missionary journey and accompanied him to Philippi. Luke remained a good friend of Paul’s throughout their lives, and possibly could have treated Paul if he had an ongoing injury.
Paul states that he pleaded to the Lord three times “that it might depart from me” (v. 8). The word translated “depart” is from the Greek word “aphistemi” which means to leave or depart. So Paul was not asking the Lord to take away the hardship as much as he was asking for the hardship to leave or depart from him.
This could point to Alexander, the coppersmith, who plagued Paul and his ministry (2 Timothy 4:14), as being the “thorn in my flesh”. Alexander’s false teaching challenged Paul’s teaching, which would have literally made Alexander “a messenger of Satan”.
Also, Alexander had influence which may have led to Paul’s imprisonments in Rome. So, Paul may have been asking God to cause Alexander to leave him alone. In reality we do not know what “the thorn in the flesh” was, but we know that it was something bad that plagued Paul and his ministry.
God’s grace is sufficient to endure any and all hardships that we may encounter in this life (v. 9a). It is through His grace that we find the power to overcome all hardship. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (v. 9b). When we are weakest is when we are equipped with the most power from on high (v. 9c).
Paul wrote “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10), because that is when he has God’s strength. We are refined, made stronger, through the hardships of life.
God could have healed Paul or caused Alexander to leave him alone, but He gave Paul what he needed instead of what he asked for. Paul needed to stay humble, so that the power could be seen to be from God and not man.
Paul wrote more books of the Bible than anyone else. He was one of the greatest men ever used by God. He was, in the eyes of God, a good person. But bad things even happened to Paul.
So, bad things do happen to good people. God allows bad things to happen in order to accomplish the greater good. Without his afflictions and persecutions it is doubtful that Paul could have accomplished as much as he did for the Kingdom of God.
Satan was the source of Paul’s hardships, but God used them for good. God had a greater good in mind. And so it is with all the bad things of life. Bad things happen to good people in order to achieve a greater good. Ours is not to reason why, but to remain faithful.