He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see. – Bob Cratchet commenting on his son Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.
Tiny Tim emerges as one of the smartest characters in this Dickens classic.
In the quote above, his father Bob remarks that Tim, while sitting in church, gloried in his weakness because it might point people to Christ, a simple perspective many older and wiser folks could miss. No doubt that kind of eternal perspective helps the boy maintain the cheerful, buoyant attitude he displays throughout the story.
Today, more than ever, this part of the story speaks to me. Tim was a cripple; that couldn’t be helped. But it could be used.
Paul said something similar in II Corinthians 12 when he described a “thorn in the flesh” that buffeted him. The specifics aren’t given, so we don’t know if the problem was physical, (probably was) emotional, or spiritual in nature. We do know it tormented him to the point he earnestly prayed for deliverance, getting the famous answer “My grace is sufficient for thee” in lieu of the healing he hoped for.
God allowed him to continue struggling with something, receive grace to deal with it, and even reach a point of glorying in it because it accented his weak humanity which, in turn, accented the power of God in him. After all, when weak and weakened vessels are used, you can’t help but credit the User. So Paul’s view went from “My miserable problem” to “My glorious thorn” when he saw the thorn’s purpose and value.
We need to be careful here, because this concept gets misused in ways that either minimize human suffering or justify human rebellion.
First, when someone is buffeted with an illness or handicap, I‘m not about to say, “How wonderful! Just think how God will use this.” That’s a remark full of glibness, if not arrogance, even if it’s true. “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) comes to mind, making it more our job to comfort and care, and God’s to reveal to the weeper what eternal purposes there may be in his difficulty.
Second, the fact we have an area of weakness – temptations; inclinations; whatever – can certainly glorify God, in that He uses sinners like us. But we can’t adopt a casual approach to sin in our lives by saying, “Hey, my porn use, or my big mouth, or my greed, are my thorns. God forgives me, so I glory in them!” Sure, it’s glorious how God uses such imperfect stewards. But no, those sort of imperfections are to be mourned, not celebrated.
Considering the number of ways we all fall short, and the many weaknesses we have to manage, whether physical or emotional, I really can appreciate Tiny Tim’s view of his ailment when he said “It might be pleasant for people to remember Him that made lame beggars walk.”
In a similar vein we can say it might be pleasant for people to look at us and remember Him that forgave and restored sinners, even as we seek to refrain from wrongdoing. Just as it may be pleasant for people to look at us and remember Him that sustains us in the midst of all kinds of troubles. If Christ being glorified in my life is the end goal, then I can hopefully learn to rejoice in whatever means He uses for that end.
Only from that position can I look at my thorn – make that thorns – and say, “Glorious.”