Biblical Questions

Clarifying Faith and Evidence Not Being Equal

In my last post I spoke on the nature of “faith and evidence.” Faith is an a priori commitment that has a direct effect on how one views various forms of evidence. According to Scripture (cf. Heb 11.1-3) one’s faith is foundational to the way in which the interpretation of facts come. I am not arguing that evidence is irrelevant to the Christian worldview (faith-system), but I am stressing there is a correct order of operations when coming to know the meaning of certain lines of evidence. A person’s faith is what gives evidence meaning.

The point of the writer of Hebrew’s is not that Christians have blind faith. That is not what is intended by the opening statement, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11.1).1 The point is that faith does not rest upon what we see (i.e. the visible).

Paul’s statement in 2Cor 5:7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” draws this truth out. He is comforting his Corinthian audience in light of the Christian life and the, at times, daunting trials and tribulations we face (cf. 2Cor 4.17) “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (2Cor 4.18; emphasis added). The encouragement is from “[knowing] that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…[knowing] that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (2Cor 5.1, 6) with the promise that the temporary flesh (our dwelling) will be transformed clothed in eternity (cf. 2Cor 5.4).

From where does our assurance and conviction come? Trust (faith) in the invisible God “who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2Cor 5.5) enables us to “make it our aim to please him” (2Cor 5.9). The point being, we do not see God nor the promises that He has given regarding eternal life and all the blessings that flow from them, and yet we believe (have faith) in spite of no visible evidence.

Returning to the argument made in the 11th chapter of Hebrews we see what I have been arguing effectively laid out. We are told in Heb 11:6 that “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.” Can you see, touch, smell, taste or hear God? No, not unless He chooses to reveal Himself (cf. Luke 10.21-22; 2Cor 4.6), as He is invisible; except, in the case of Jesus of Nazareth who though the eternal living Word that stepped into history to put on flesh and tabernacle among us (cf. John 1.1-18). He alone revealed the invisible God of Scripture perfectly (Heb 1.3); being full of grace and truth (John 1.14; 17); being God in human flesh (Phil 2.5-8).

The overarching theme of Hebrews 11 is that faith is not based on evidence, but on things not seen (don’t take my word for it, read the chapter and see how many times emphasis is laid on this truth). All of those commended in this chapter—both the named and unnamed—were “commended through their faith” even though they “did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11.39). They looked for a city that was not built by human hands, and a country not reached by natural means (Heb 11.10, 15-16). Therefore, like Abraham, we who are heirs of the promise take God at His word and are accredited as righteous (cf. Gen 15.6; Rom 4).

“But,” you ask “if faith rests on the unseen rather than evidence (the seen), then does that not by necessity make it a blind faith? Moreover, does this not do away with the necessity of evidence in general?” No, on both accounts.

Truth Taught in a Children’s Game

Did you ever play that game as a child (or an adult) where a person stands behind you and tells you to let yourself fall back and they will catch you. The game is a test of one’s faith. You are basing your action on whether or not you trust the person speaking. You cannot see them, although you know they are there. You have no guarantee that they will catch you (maybe they will react to late), but you must act one way or another. The person who trusts the spoken promises of the individual behind them, will “draw near to them” even though they cannot see them. The person who fails to trust the person’s testimony proves that they do not have genuine faith in them, for they refuse to entrust themselves to them.

Verification for what is Being Argued from Various Biblical Examples

Although, I will grant that this analogy, like all others falls short of divine truth, it does illustrate to some extent what the writer of Hebrews (and other biblical authors) continually stress: True faith is not based on evidence that we see, but on oral/written testimony.

For example, we find that God promised Joshua that if he and the Israelites obeyed God’s instruction (took him at His word) and marched around the city of Jericho as instructed blowing the trumpets at the appointed time, then the walls of that great stronghold city would come tumbling down (cf. Josh 6). There was no evidence (of a physical, brute fact) that the walls would tumble down like dominoes—who has ever heard of such a thing, fortified walls collapsing just because people walked around its parameter and blew musical instruments? —but Joshua and the people took God at His Word. They had faith in His testimony, His promises that they were right and true. Again, look and see if that is not what is expressed in Hebrews 11.

Testimony…God’s spoken/written/heard Word was (is) the grounds of true faith. Not blind, as in arbitrary, but not based on visible things. The assurance and conviction came from that which was promised, but not that which was seen. After the fact various evidences were seen, but these are not interpreted “impartially, standing on neutral ground…waiting to see if the evidence warrants trust in God’s truthfulness or not,”2 instead it is the faith that a person possesses which determines the manner in which the evidence is understood. Such evidence then does not prove the grounds of one’s belief, but only confirms it.

In short, faith comes first and evidence is given a secondary emphasis. This does not short change evidence for the Christian worldview, but it does explain why people can view the same line of evidence and draw radically different conclusions regarding it.

We can turn to another biblical example where this is affirmed. In Numbers 13 the Lord instructs Moses to send out spies into the land of Canaan. These spies were representative heads of each of the 12 tribes of Israel. They were to examine and then vouch for the promised inheritance.

Of that number two of the chosen were named Caleb and Joshua. These men had served faithfully under Moses leadership. After 40-days of exploration in the new land, the spies were instructed to give a report before the assembly of the people in Israel.

  • “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land” (Numb 13.17-20).

Please bear in mind that this land was the land that the Lord was “giving to the people of Israel” (Numb 13.2). The Lord God was taking from their enemies and giving to His people. Their only job was to look and see what exactly they were stepping into.

This, on the one hand a verification of what God had already promised earlier that the land was going to be a blessing to the people: “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exod 3.8, 17; 13.5). On the other hand; however, it was a test to see if the people had faith in God. He promised deliverance, He promised blessing and a great inheritance, but He required faithful obedience.

The question unspoken, but nonetheless posed was, “Will this people trust in MY Word and MY Promise, even though they have not seen the delivery of MY testimony as of yet; or, will those people believe in only what they can see, refusing to have faith in what I have said?” People who had sworn to be faithful to the Lord who had delivered them from Egypt, but continually proved their waywardness.

When the 40-days was up and the 12 spies returned, what sort of report did they give?

  • “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit” (Numb 13.27).

That is to say, “the Lord has spoken truly to you Moses (and to us), this land is truly blessed; a great inheritance.” They have “seen” the evidence and they have attested that what was spoken was true, but this is not an act of faith. No faith is present in this declaration. “How can you say this, Kris?” Look at the very next statement made by 10 of the 12 spies.

  • “However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan…We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are…The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numb 13.28-29, 31, 32-33; italics added).

In spite of the protests of Caleb and Joshua (cf. Numb 13.30; 14.6), the majority of the people rebelled against God and His servants. They did not trust in (have faith in) the Word of God, for they denied His promises as valid and choose instead to believe the evidence before them. These men, and the people who followed their teaching had faith in the testimony of unbeliever’s, rather than faith in God. They saw what God had promised to give them, but in seeing the evidence they called God a liar. According to Scripture, that generation of unbelievers had not faith (cf. Numb 14.33; Heb 4.2)

What I’m Arguing For

Rather than assuming that you are getting the meaning of what I am saying, allow me to spell it out as plainly as possible.

True faith rests not in what we see, but what we do not see. True faith rests on the testimony of an authoritative voice. All people have faith, but not all people have faith in the same thing.

What a person submits to as authoritative demonstrates what that individual truly has faith in.

Faith is not blind, it is based on something…the testimony of another. Who you trust in determines what you see. A faith that is based on sight is not really faith at all. It is akin to saying, “I will love you if you do this for me;” whereas, love requires that we are committed to the one whom we love regardless of whether or not they do anything for us. I may not see their love demonstrated in return, but I am called to love them regardless.

This may not be how I personally may want to define “faith” (or love for that matter), but it is nonetheless how the Bible defines it.

I will never see Jesus in this life (unless He returns), I won’t see His blood being shed for me, nor will I see Him hanging on a cross. I have not been blessed like some in history to see Him at the Father’s right hand (cf. Acts 7.56), and I do not see Him now interceding on my behalf though I be a worthless sinner. These and many more I do not see, but I firmly believe. This is not a blind faith, to trust in what the Bible says as God’s breathed-out Word, for all around me I see evidence that confirms the truthfulness of what has been revealed enabling me to continue on trusting in that which I cannot. The fact of the matter is this, without God’s Word (the Holy Bible) I could not truly make sense out of any aspect of life.

Am I then saying that evidence is unimportant? That evidence shouldn’t be used in Christian argumentation? No, although that is often the caricature that is levied at individuals like myself. “The Biblical [sic] faith is not indifferent to God’s acts in history, nor is it pessimistic about evidences…All facts are created facts which can be properly understood only when given the interpretation the Creator intends; as such, all facts demonstrate the truth of Christianity.”3 But, my faith is built on nothing other than Jesus Christ not on evidence. To argue the reverse, that evidence is the foundation (ground for) my faith spins biblical truth on its head and robs faith of its true meaning.

___________________

ENDNOTES:

1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2 Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection,” PA003 Synapse II, Westminster Seminary: Jan 1972 (Covenant Media Foundation), par 4., http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa003.htm.

3 Ibid, par 1.

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