What if your suffering is not a lack of faith but the result of faith?
The first half of Hebrews 11 reads like a movie trailer summarizing the lives of men and women who, by faith, had great successes. They conquered temptation, they were spared from floods, and they gave God their best.
We’re all either dancing or trudging through life. On the days where living feelings like trudging, it reinvigorates my faith to remember the faithful men and women who went before me.
Miracles and Martyrdom Both Come from Faith
I love the first half of Hebrews 11, but somewhere in the middle, something happens — something we can’t overlook about faith. People stop conquering giants and having children miraculously. The author of Hebrews writes that some, “quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (Hebrews 11:34). He still has me at this point. I’m ready to take on the world.
My heart rejoices with each triumphant story, but then comes the next verse, “Some were tortured refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated…wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35).
Did I miss something? What happened to crossing the sea and closing lions' mouths? These two groups of people, those who saw amazing miracles because of their faith and those who suffered for it, are grouped in the same passage, in the same train of thought. We cannot miss what this means or we’ll live a distorted life of faith. In this life, faith doesn’t only produce miracles, it also produces suffering. Jesus assured us of this (John 15:18-21). Nearly all of the disciples were killed, and John was exiled to a remote island.
The Reward for Suffering Well
These individuals who suffered for their faith are not cast into a corner and ignored. They’re celebrated like those we view as champions of the faith. Here’s what the Bible says of these mistreated faithful heroes: “the world was not worthy” of them. He says the same of the Old Testament heroes who experienced some of God’s greatest miracles, “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:16).
We must not be ashamed of suffering. It may make us uncomfortable or even question Jesus. That’s how Peter felt when he found himself struggling with the fate of his faith: death on a cross. In John 21, after Jesus revealed how Peter would die, Peter pointed to John and asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21-22).
Jesus asks the same of us, to follow Him wherever He leads. Out of the furnace or into the flames, we follow Jesus remembering that this world is not our home. This life is not all there is for us. Regardless of our success or suffering here on earth, we will all triumph in the end and spend eternity with Jesus, who endured the cross on our behalf (Hebrews 12:2-3).