Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation (Hebrews 11:1–2).
Hebrews 11 is in the Bible to remind us that God hides his most precious treasures for his saints in their most difficult and painful experiences.
When we read this chapter we are supposed to stop and reflect more deeply on this strange motif because it’s just a brief summary (“And what more shall I say, for time will fail me to tell of…” (Hebrews 11:32).
Think of how Abraham and Sarah agonized with infertility, then waited 25 years for God to fulfill his promise of Isaac. Think of how Isaac and Rebekah agonized over the treacherous and nearly murderous rivalry between their twin sons. Think of how Jacob agonized for years in grief over the belief that wild beasts had killed Joseph. Think of how Moses agonized for 40 years in the Midian wilderness over his lost opportunity to deliver his enslaved people. Think of how David agonized for years as Saul hunted him like an animal.
Now think of what each agony eventually resulted in.
The motif of agony giving birth to the greatest blessings the world has ever known continues throughout redemptive history culminating in Jesus’s unparalleled agony on the cross and the disciples’ agony of the brutal loss of their Messianic rabbi — only to be completely transfigured by the resurrection.
And the motif keeps right on going. Saints ever since have agonized through difficult labors, imprisonments, terrible persecutions; danger from robbers, unbelievers, false brothers, travel hazards, natural disasters, hunger, cold and exposure; the sorrows of disease, disability, family strife; and on top of those, “the daily pressure…of…anxiety for all the churches” (see 2 Corinthians 11:23–28).
Now think of what the agonies of the church age have yielded.
Hebrews 11 is there to remind you that God is doing far more than you can see in your agonies, these things that are so, so hard and at times seem unbearable. You plead for God to deliver you from them and you wonder why he just keeps letting them go on.
You are in good company. This is how your brothers and sisters throughout history have also felt, most of who are now in the great cloud of witnesses encouraging you to hold on and not give up (Hebrews 12:1). And what they are encouraging you to do mainly is trust God’s promises for you over your perceptions. Faith is “the conviction of things not seen.” Promises will hold you up; perceptions will likely sink you.
And, I believe, they encourage you not to begrudge these difficult afflictions, because they will yield you “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). “Remember us,” I think they would say, “and see that God hides his most precious treasures for you, and for others through you, in your most difficult and painful experiences.”