“This man…heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4)
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was one of the church’s most celebrated defenders of the faith. Yet just three months before his death, something caused him to leave unfinished his Summa Theologica, the massive legacy of his life’s work. While reflecting on the broken body and shed blood of his Savior, Aquinas claimed to see a vision that left him without words. He said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings seem like straw.”
Before Aquinas, Paul too had a vsion. In 2 Corinthians, he described the experience “(1)-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things” (12:3-4).
Paul and Aquinas left us to reflect on an ocean of goodness that neither words nor reason can express. The implications of what Aquinas saw left him without hope of finishing his work in a way that would do justice to a God who sent His Son to be crucified for us. By contrast, Paul continued to write, but he did so in the awareness of what he couldn’t express or finish in his own strength.
In all the troubles Paul encountered in service to Christ, he could look back and see, in his weakness, a grace and goodness beyond words and wonder.
- What problems have you had that seemed like a curse?
- How have you seen God show Himself good to you in ways you can’t describe?
Father in heaven, please give us the courage today to look for an inexpressible sense of your presence and strength in our weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows-was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In 2 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul continued his reluctant “boasting” he began in the previous chapter to counteract the claims of the “super apostles,” false teachers who were misleading the Corinthians by preaching “a Jesus other than the Jesus Paul preached”. In chapter 12, he tells of a time years earlier when he’d been “caught up to the third heaven”, or paradise, the place of God’s throne. According to ancient Jewish belief, there were three heavens. The first heaven was the earth’s atmosphere (winds and clouds) and the second consisted of the sun, moon, and stars.