Faith and evidence are two very important elements of the Christian faith, but they are not equal’s. The undergirding assumption of unbelieving thought is always this: I will follow where the evidence leads, and to where it leads there I shall place my trust.
Of the two in this scenario which is given supremacy? Obviously, evidence is the a priori commitment. Question: Is there anything wrong with the conviction “seeing is believing?”
“Now, you just wait one minute there, Kris. No one said ‘seeing is believing’ you’re not telling it straight!”
Okay, let’s look at it one more time and see if my assessment is fair. You say, “I won’t believe unless I see it first.” Or you tell me, “I’ll make my judgment after I see where the evidence leads me.” Or with great confidence you retort, “Faith is really believing because of the evidence.” If I’m interpreting the types of phrases correctly, then it seems to me fairly obvious that evidence is given an a priori commitment; therefore, using the phrase “seeing is believing” while admittingly unsophisticated nonetheless seems to capture the general meaning of the conviction that is sometimes presented in the average persons reasoning. This would include a significant number of professing Christians.
The Bible gives a different answer for one’s faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11.1).1 Notice the order of operations the writer of Hebrews gives his audience for the relationship between faith and evidence. Faith is offered as the foundational support for how one views the evidence. Our convictions are not derived from what we see, but what we hold to be true. Or perhaps a clearer way of understanding this is that our faith determines our interpretation of the evidence. Evidence is always interpreted, it never speaks for itself or anyone else for that matter.
The writer goes on to say that in the past “the people of old received their commendation” (Heb 11.2; i.e. earned God’s approval). How did they receive God’s approval? Was it because God presented them with evidence and then they believed; had faith? Or was it because God told them the truth of the matter, and they trusted in God without Him providing evidence?
- Perhaps a quick illustration will help the reader understand my point: A child is told not to put his hand on a hot stove. The parent knows that the burner is hot, but the child has no evidence of this fact. The child is confronted with a dilemma: Either I take my parents word, trusting in them as the purveyor of truth even though I cannot see that the burner is hot; or I put my hand on the stove top to see/test whether or not the stove is hot. By touching the stove, I may learn that the stove is hot, but is believing after the fact an act of faith on my part as the child? No, a faithful child (one that has faith in their parents’ word—the assurance and conviction of the truth in spite of me not being able to see it—is the true definition of faith.
These are important questions, but if we follow the logic of the writer of Hebrews the answer is dictated to us in the text: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Heb 11.3). Again, follow the flow of thought and ask probing questions of the text.
- Was anyone in the beginning when God created? Did anyone see the origin of the universe? How did things come to be according to the author of Hebrews?
No one was with God in the beginning, other than God when He created; therefore, no one saw the origin of the universe. According to Scripture it was God’s supernatural act of speaking into existence creation that creation came forth. In fact, the latter portion of verse 3 tells us that what is now seen (creation itself) was created by the invisible God; not the creation evolving from one visible degree to another from things already existing. Nothing existed before God the invisible brought it into being. Again, this sort of faith is not based on evidence but is understood (assurance and conviction) as a result of the object of one’s faith.2
As you go down through the list of what is endearingly labeled the “Hall of Faith” by the household of God, this flow of thought is again and again confirmed. One’s faith was not based on the evidence; rather, one’s faith determined the nature of the evidence before them. This was true of Abel (v.4), Enoch (v.5), Noah (v.7) and Abraham (vv. 8-10, 17-19). Now the list goes on and touches on many important biblical figures, pillars of our faith, but we do not need to go through each and every one to see what has already been asserted: faith and evidence are important elements of believing faith, but they are not equals, as a person’s faith naturally leads to the correct/incorrect interpretation of all forms of evidence.
- “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11.6).
Both Cain and Abel offered sacrifices of worship to God, but only Abel’s was acceptable to God. Why? Well, without jumping into another lengthy discussion, let it be sufficient to say that true faith is always an act of obedience. Extrapolating what we know of God and what we are able to draw from Genesis 3-4, Adam most likely taught his sons the way of pleasing God; of what was an acceptable form of worship. Abel desiring to honor his parents, obeyed their command that had been passed down to them (cf. Gen 3.21), offered what in terms of confession admitted that he was a sinner in need of God’s grace (cf. Lev 17.11; Heb 9.22). The Lord was pleased with his humility and contriteness of heart, a disposition that his natural brother did not share.
Enoch preached righteousness and judgment to that rebellious generation he lived as he walked with the Lord, and God was pleased with his faithful testimony (cf. Jude 1.14-15). Noah picked up the mantle of his great-grandfather Enoch as a faithful preacher in his day (cf. 2Pet 2.5), and took to heart the warning God had given him about the flood and built “an ark for the saving of his household” (Heb 11.7a)
Likewise, when Abraham was still living as a pagan, the Lord called him out to a land he did not know to be his inheritance. The Lord promised to make him a father in his old age, and not just the father of one, but the father or many. Therefore, Abraham is rightly called the father of the faithful, for through his offspring (seed) all the nations of the earth are blessed; whom we of the faith know to be Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (cf. Rom 4.10-13; Gal 3.29; 4.26-31).
What we need to see, and it is right before our eyes if only we would read it with ears to hear, is that none of these individuals saw what they had faith in. Abel did not see how a sacrifice of a lamb could be viewed by God (the invisible) as a pleasing sight—flesh for flesh, life for life—but he trusted the word he received and acted accordingly. Similarly, neither Enoch or Noah had witnessed the coming judgment—the great deluge of God’s wrath against sinful mankind in their day—but they believed (had faith) and preached and acted on the basis of it.
And let us not forget Abraham, who we are told by the apostle Paul was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness'” (Rom 4.21-22), because he “believed God…” (Rom 4.3; see Gen 15.6 pay attention to context). That is to say, Abraham took God at His Word. His faith was not based on what he saw, for the reference point to which Paul points in Romans and the writer of Hebrews illustrates from other times in Abraham’s life was long before he had received any of those things. His faith was not based on evidence, but the “assurance” and conviction” of that which he did not see—i.e. no evidence.
My friends, hear me well….
Abraham did not own the land promised to him, but He believed God would give it to him and his descendants. Abraham did not have any children, and yet he believed that God would grant him not only the child of promise Isaac, but also many, many more through him. The number of which is too difficult to count for man with any accurate assessment—the stars of the heavens and the sand on the sea shore (Gen 15.5; 22.17). God spoke promises to Abraham, and Abraham had not seen hide or hair of them, and yet he was convinced in his heart that when God spoke, He spoke (speaks) true.
And to test the genuineness of Abraham’s faith, not for God, but for all future generations including Abraham himself, the Lord asked of Abraham what the Father would one day require of Him (cf. John 3.16): “Abraham, give me your one and only son. Give me your unique son; your special son.” And Abraham acted in faith towards God’s command, he offered up Isaac on one of the mounts in Moriah. Now we are told the reasoning behind Abraham’s action on that fateful day: “He considered that God was able to even raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Heb 11.19).
Abraham did not have any evidence that God would raise his beloved son Isaac, but his assurance and conviction caused him to believe that if he did this God (the invisible) was able to raise him up from the dead. You cannot say this was action based on evidence, because there was no evidence of God resurrecting at this time, let alone the assurance that God would do this with Isaac. But Abraham’s faith caused him to weigh the evidence before him, the sacrifice of his special son, in a light contrary to what many would deem visibly possible—i.e. God’s resurrection power. No evidence to support this conclusion, only Abraham’s faith.
1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
2 True for both the biblical creation model and evolutionary model. Both origin models are faith-based systems. No one was in the beginning, but our beliefs about the beginning effect the way we interpret the evidence (visible creation) that we see. It is our conviction based on the authority that we trust in that determines how we view reality as a whole.