Hebrews 11 is a marvelous chapter known to many as the Hall of Faith. The first half of the chapter lists great heroes of the Old Testament. Then verses 33-35a are enough to make one cheer; subduing kingdoms, obtaining promises, stopping lions and escaping fire and sword. Victory in battle, and even having the dead brought back to life again.
How did all this happen? “Through faith,” says verse 33. The faith that moves mountains.
That faith has not been extinguished over time. Believers still see God do mighty things. Cancer disappears. Alcoholics get deliverance. Battles are won.
What about us? We who are sick, and have been sick for years? We who have prayed and asked and hoped for healing, but not received it? What about those suffering in persecuted countries? What about those mistreated by the cruel?
Some say illness or disease or any kind of suffering is representative of a lack of faith. That we failed in our battle. We lost. If we could only believe more, condemn the sickness, declare ourselves healthy or strong or rich, we would be free. (I’ve heard those; you likely have too.)
Those people did not heed the rest of the chapter on faith. Look on, starting right after those believers who had the ultimate visual victory – the dead coming to life again – as a representation of their faith:
…and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance…they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword…destitute, afflicted, tormented… (Heb. 11:35b-37)
Wait a minute. How can words like afflicted and tormented be in a chapter celebrating faith? Many would say those people didn’t have enough faith. If they had, they would have been delivered to live a comfortable and healthy and victorious life, right?
Not according to God. Read on. The chapter ends this way:
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith… (vs 39)
Sometimes faith results in healing or victory, in what looks to us humans like what faith should look like. As Jesus said, If you have enough faith, you can tell a mountain to move and it will (Matthew 17:20). That a pretty obvious way to show your faith.
Does that mean that people whose mountains move are closer to God, and people who have mountains still in their backyard aren’t?
I could list many examples in Scripture, but let’s go straight to our ultimate example of perfect faith and oneness with God – Jesus Christ.
First, Jesus never told a mountain to move so we could “see” His faith. In fact, He rejected the suggestion every time His disciples, skeptics, or even Satan suggested He do an obvious sign to prove Himself to the world. We should take that to heart. Faith shouldn’t be about the show.
Second, Jesus prayed a prayer that God said no to. Jesus even asked God why. Both were during the time of His greatest suffering. Both were during a time when religious people questioned His faith (the faith of the Messiah Himself!) and mocked His lack of “ability” to get off the cross. Both were also on the path to the greatest glory and victory history has ever witnessed.
At one point, Jesus said He could have made the problem go away. He could have instantly summoned legions of angels to deliver Him (Matthew 26:53). Take away His pain. Give Him health and wealth.
Instead, He let the mountain remain. He asked God, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).
For some of us, God wants the mountain to remain. Moving it might impress people and make them feel like we have faith, but sometimes it takes more faith to let God be glorified through our suffering rather than being delivered from it.
As in Hebrews, sometimes God is glorified by delivering His children from the trial. Other times, He is glorified most by not delivering them.
I used to live right at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those beautiful peeks have been there for millennia, despite the fact that this the Bible Belt and there are many people with great faith here. Why do they remain? Is it because no one has had enough faith to move them? Or because God wants them there? They glorify Him to the world. When I see them, I am filled with awe, given peace, reminded by lifting up my eyes to the hills that my help comes from God (Psalm 121).
For some reason, God has chosen not to move my mountain of chronic illness. He has moved many others in my life – I have seen Him do amazing things – but this one He has allowed to remain. Perhaps your suffering, your mountain, has and will remain.
If I love Him, if I care more about His glory than my own comfort (or convincing people like Job’s friends, which is usually a waste of verbiage), then I will pray like Jesus. I can ask God to move the mountain – remove the suffering – but what I want most is for His will to be done, not mine.
If you are walking with the Lord but find yourself suffering, do not despair. All those in Hebrews 11 are still bringing glory to God and help to His people thousands of years later. Your path may include suffering, but if you are walking with God, in His will, then that path itself is a heavenly one. If we give our lives to God completely, we will allow Him to place us where we will most glorify Him – even if it is in that second half of the chapter.
Like Jesus, we can do this for the joy set before us (Hebrews 12:2). For all believers, endurance is required now, but the best part is coming!
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:16).