And let's review the basics I've presented up to this point: a) humans experience sickness because they are born in bodies that were stricken with the curse of death due to Adam's sin; b) only by getting new bodies not stricken by that curse will Christians not be susceptible to illness; c) the Devil attempts to take advantage of that susceptibility to bring us to greater depths of misery than we otherwise would experience, but he is not the ultimate author of sickness and disease; d) in expunging the curse upon sinners through his own unmerited death, Christ undermined the foundation of illness; e) therefore, when Christians do experience illness, they can call upon God for healing in very much the same way they would call upon him for forgiveness if they had sinned.
This all sounds so simple and straightforward, but if I'm honest I'd have to admit that things don' t work that crisply and cleanly in the real world. God, apparently, juggles more variables in governing our lives than we can ever be aware of. Just when we think we have it figured out, and have identified all the relevant factors, the unexplainable (or maybe just the entirely too complex) comes upon us and we face that same awe striking reality Job did. Our understanding distills in those moments like Job's did in his--God is God and that has to be enough for us.
Some issues Christians face are just thorny. Like Job, the Apostle Paul had his moment of clarity (or resignation?) concerning such perplexities. Even though we anticipate God watching over our lives to bring blessing, there are times we are pummeled with everything but blessing. What can we learn from Paul's or Job's experience? Even though Paul did what any person of faith should do when faced with a physical attack (i.e. pain, disability, or sickness), whether directly attributable to the Devil or not, he got none of the relief the atonement of Christ would have been expected to deliver.
Let me sketch out the particulars of his circumstance in the hopes that we'll see this the same way: 1) Paul was afflicted by a singular source of irritation that "beat" his flesh (which I find hard not to see in physical terms as pain); 2) the Devil was the agent which visited this suffering upon Paul; 3) Paul prayed diligently in faith for "healing" (as I've posited should be our approach); 4) God had a spiritual agenda operating for Paul's benefit which acted synchronously, almost symbiotically, with the Devil's evil one; and 5) in the end, Paul celebrated his "beaten but unhealed", condition because in not succeeding in destroying him, it demonstrated God's miraculous power (perhaps as much as healing would have).
When physical suffering is clearly from the Devil, as in this case, the certainty that it is not ours to bear is that much more definite. We are the blood-bought, blood-washed children of God. The Devil has no business nor any right in afflicting us. Operating from that perspective, Paul asked once for it to be gone, nothing. Twice, nothing still. Thrice the charm? Not in this case.
Paul's faith in God's deliverance through Christ was sure, hence his importunity. Certainly, he understood the implications of Christ's atonement as well as anyone ever did. If ever there was a candidate for the healing ministrations of Christ, Paul was that one. And yet God did not heal Paul, he gave him a word instead. It was a promise of victory even though it wasn't a promise of healing.
Huh? God promised that even though the affliction remained, it would not get the best of him. Despite that thorn, Paul would go on and God's grace would be sufficient to carry him through whatever the Devil threw at him. I'm led to conclude that overcoming can look different from God's perspective than from ours.
I know dear brothers and sisters in the Lord who are full of faith and lead outstanding Spirit-filled lives of love and faithfulness, yet they are chronically sick and feeble or are lame. Diabetes, in particular, is a stubborn culprit for many dear brothers and sisters in God's kingdom. Did a lack of faith either create their conditions or does it keep them in them? No, I don't think so, but I do think we, like Paul, need to express the importunity of faith before we resign ourselves to those conditions.
Healing has already been won for us by Christ, provided in his atonement. Why should any of us accept a thorn, that by rights is not ours, without a word from the Lord that tells us to?