It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I am an evidentialist; after all, I’m a detective. This is what I have done for a living for the past 25 years. I think it’s in my blood. But I sometimes wonder if my evidentialist DNA is distorting what I read in Scripture. Am I restricting my interpretations based on an evidentialist presupposition? I have come to understand the Biblical definition of faith to be a reasoned trust in light of the evidence. Jesus told us to trust his claims in light of the miracles that confirmed his words evidentially (John 14:11), and he spent 40 days with the disciples after the resurrection, providing them with many convincing proofs that he was alive (Acts 1:2-3). I’ve written about this evidential view of faith and I see it supported repeatedly on the pages of the New Testament. But I occasionally get an email from a podcast listener questioning the evidential nature of Christian belief. Here’s a common example:
I’m hoping you can help me with something. I tend to agree with your evidential approach to understanding the Bible, and I always cringe whenever people define faith as a blind belief in something. That said, there are several passages in scripture that, at face value, seem to be saying that faith is just that… Hebrews 11 starts by saying that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This seems to be saying that faith is made out of hopes, and that having faith is evidence enough. How do you reconcile verses such as these with your evidential approach to scripture?
This passage in Hebrews is often cited as an example of a different kind of Biblical faith; one that is hopeful, even though the evidence is of things “unseen”. It appears to be the closest Biblical statement affirming a “blind faith” that is not restricted to things that can be supported by evidence. But is that what this verse actually says? Let’s take a closer look at the passage in the NASB:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
The context of Hebrews 11:1, following Hebrews 10, is essential in understand what the writer of Hebrews is referring to in this passage concerning faith. In Chapter 10, the author ends the section encouraging his readers to continue in their faith and to “endure” (verse 36) in spite of “reproaches” and “tribulations” they may have experienced or observed. He finishes by saying, “…we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” In the very next line (the passage we are considering at 11:1) the author says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
So what is it here that is connected to “faith” and is also “unseen”? Is it “evidence”? Is the author saying, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, when the evidence is unseen?” No, he’s saying just the opposite. When considering chapter 10 prior to interpreting verse 11:1, it’s clear that the author is encouraging his readers to endure those times when God seems absent; those times when trials and tribulations cause us to question God’s existence. Where is God in these difficult situations? Why can’t we see Him? Why can’t we see His activity in our lives? In verse 11:1, the author of Hebrews says that we can trust that God’s salvation, protection and provision are still there for us, even though they may appear to be “things not seen.” In spite of their apparent absence, we are told to trust that they exist. Why? On what basis? On the basis of what we can see.
Over and over again the Old Testament saints, when questioning God’s goodness, provision or protection, were encouraged by a leader or prophet to remember what God did for them in Egypt. God’s rescue efforts in Egypt were provided as a piece of evidence, demonstrating that He was capable of rescuing His children again. God has given us visible assurance that he exists, and the writer of Hebrews is simply asking us to trust this assurance when God and his mercies seem like they are “things not seen”. Even the writer of Hebrews understood the conviction and assurance that resulted from evidence: the evidence of God’s Old Testament activities and the evidence of Jesus’ New Testament miracles.