Did the Apostle Paul Struggle with OCD?
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2 Corinthians 12 tells us that Paul, for the purpose of preventing him from exalting himself, was given him a thorn in the flesh. Now many Christians love to speculate on what this thorn is, some say his poor eye sight hinted at in Galatians 6:11, but most of the time I've found people speculate on what the thorn is I think they miss the scripture that describes it that I believe rules out something so simple as poor eyesight. This part is often overlooked in scripture, right after Paul uses this depiction of a thorn he qualifies it with "a messenger of Satan to torment me". Keep in mind this is the inspired Word of God. So Paul isn't using the word "torment" lightly, he means it. He is tormented by this thorn... Torment is defined as "cause to experience severe mental or physical suffering." For a few reasons I don't think it was physical suffering, for one Paul often spoke of his contentment among his physical sufferings, even in this letter (2 Cor. 6:5, 11:25) though it's possible. I don't think it was an outward ailment like blindness as I don't think this would have caused an unceasing torment. For a period yes, but this suffering was one Paul begged God several times. The biggest reason I don't think this was physical suffering though? Because Paul said the torment came by way of a "messenger of Satan". Paul's torment came by a demon who's role was a messenger.


Sounds like OCD doesn't it?


Paul mentions this "messenger of Satan" in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, in his first letter to the Corinthians he writes "I also was with you in weakness and fear, and in great trembling".


Sounds like OCD doesn't it?


Interestingly Paul doesn't elaborate on what was causing him "fear" and "great trembling" but I wonder if the Corinthians, when they received the 2nd letter remembered his condition when he visited them, that which he spoke about in his first letter.


Furthermore, I've often found OCD sufferers to have a similar upbringing in that we often had very authoritarian and legalistic influencers growing up. I can't think of anyone in scripture who would have been more legalistic than Paul a "hebrew of hebrews" who as to the law was himself a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). I've found most OCD sufferers (if not all) struggle with legalism.


In Romans 7:7b-8 Paul says "...for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead." Like the harder he tried to not think of something the more he did it.


Sounds like OCD doesn't it?


Also think about the reasons Paul may exalt himself and what sorts would be needed so that he wouldn't. Paul stated the temptation to be puffed up was because of the "extraordinary greatness of the revelations". An outward ailment wouldn't so easily have neutralized this temptation, as such wouldn't have garnished the attention to the revelation given Paul (after all we have more NT writings from him than any other author). Paul going blind wouldn't have thwarted his flesh from pridefully becoming conceited over the revelation. Torment was needed. Paul needed an attack that would weaken him, and retain him in a state of fear and great trembling and by so doing neutralize the focus from being where it should not.


Paul was held to a high standard by God, after all, would we even understand grace like we do if not for the inspired letters from Paul? Therefore God, lovingly for Paul, but also for us, gave Paul this thorn.


It's interesting that Paul described this messenger of Satan that tormented him as a "thorn in the flesh". A couple days ago I was working on my trailer and ended up getting a sliver. It was a very busy day and I had much on my mind, but once I got the sliver, everything else on my mind was put on the back burner. Then I spent some time digging it out as it went completely under the skin requiring me to break away the skin with a needle first before I could get the tweezers out. Now others in my family would have finished their work before addressing the sliver but not me. Even though I had a very busy day I found myself shirking all my responsibilities until this sliver was taken care of. My mind was consumed with it. As OCD sufferers we often lock onto what's wrong, what's missing, what's uncertain, and it torments us keeping us from enjoying other things.


Yes it's interesting that Paul called it a thorn in the flesh; many ways he could have described it, but the messenger of Satan that tormented him he saw fit to use the analogy of a thorn in the flesh. I'm not concluding that Paul had what we now label as OCD, the info is inconclusive, other disorders have been described as a liar within, but I'm not saying it's off the table either and when you start deducing the things that may cause Paul this level of torment... if it's not what we call OCD, I bet Paul can relate with us nonetheless.


Regardless, when you find yourself tormented by the messenger, consider Paul, and the blessing it brought about in his life and thereby to others and even us. While this may not alleviate the torment, it may give you reason to praise God amongst the torment "...so that the power of Christ may dwell in me....for when I am weak, then I am strong" (cf 2 Cor. 12:9-10).


Someday, I'm convinced, we'll look back on that which tormented us and when we know in full, just as we're currently fully known (1 Cor. 13:12) we'll offer genuine thanks to God from the heart, and according to wisdom for what that brought about.


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