The Christian concept of “faith” is often either misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented by skeptics and critics of Christianity. Christians are not called to believe blindly. In fact, the Christian worldview is an evidential worldview grounded in the eyewitness testimony of those who saw Jesus provide evidence of His Deity. Sometimes Christians contribute to the misunderstanding by failing to see the evidential nature of Christianity and the reasonable nature of “faith”. As I teach on this topic around the country, Christians often offer this passage in the Book of Hebrews to defend a definition of blind faith:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval.
Is the writer of Hebrews commending a form of blind faith in which we simply hope for “things not seen”? No. The author is encouraging his readers to continue to trust in the promises of God, in spite of the fact they haven’t yet been fulfilled (and might not even be fulfilled in their lifetimes). This trust in “things not seen” is not unwarranted, however. The promises of God are grounded in what God has already done. In other words, the author of Hebrews is asking his readers to trust what can’t be (or hasn’t yet been) seen, on the basis of what can be (or has been) seen.
To make this point clear, the writer of Hebrews offers a short list of historic believers who trusted God’s promises for the future on the basis of what God had done in the past: Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are described as believers who “died in faith, without receiving the promises” (verse 13). The promises of God were yet “things not seen”. In spite of this, these believers held firm to the promises of God on the basis of what they had seen. The author of Hebrews demonstrates this point with perhaps the best example of a believer who possessed a reasonable, evidential faith: Moses.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.
Moses repeatedly responded obediently (albeit sometimes reluctantly) to the yet unseen promises of God on the basis of what he had already seen God do in his life. In fact, years later when the Israelites complained or expressed doubt, Moses told them to move forward toward promises yet unseen on the basis of the evidence God had already given them:
Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
You shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt:
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.
But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing.
Moses was the supreme example of a man who had a deep, reasonable trust based on the evidence God had provided him. His faith wasn’t blind, it was evidentially reasonable. He had seen God in the burning bush, watched how God used him in front of pharaoh, saw miracle after miracle, and witnessed the power of God. On the basis of this evidence, his confidence grew and Moses was ultimately transformed from a coward to a champion.
Christianity is grounded in the evidence of the eyewitness gospel accounts. These documents make claims about the history of the First Century and the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. As such, these claims are both verifiable and falsifiable. As we grow in our confidence related to the reliability of the Gospels, our reasoned trust in what they claim (and what they promise) will also grow. The gospels describe many “things not seen”. God is immaterial and invisible, and many of the promises of God are yet unfulfilled. But we can trust the things we can’t see on the basis of the things we can. We can move in faith toward the future on the basis of what God has demonstrated in the past.