Faith as Evidence

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1)

For the first 18 years of my Christian life, I interpreted this verse as meaning that believers have faith instead of evidence.  This was a deeply unsatisfying interpretation of these words as it seems to imply that Christians must abandon reason and skepticism.  How can we reconcile this with the requirements in other parts of the Bible that we “test the spirits”?  How does one love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul and mind if one has faith in lieu of evidence?  As I was meditating on the word of God recently, however, an alternative interpretation of this verse occurred to me.  Consider the following verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you—  therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.  For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.  (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)

On the basis of this verse, therefore, I would propose an alternative phrasing of the verse in Hebrews, “Now faith is the manifestation of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  In this way, our shared experience of faith strengthens our beliefs and helps us to know that what we believe is true.  Perhaps an illustration of this principle is in order.

A while back, an older woman in the church that I was attending stood up in front of the congregation and shared her shocking testimony.  In her youth, this woman had been sexually molested and abused by her alcoholic father.  She shared how God had healed her from that horrible injury to the point where she was able to serve as his nurse at the end of his life and lead him to Jesus Christ.  When she was done, there was not a dry eye in the house.

Now honestly, when I hear a testimony like that I am absolutely blown away.  If she had picked up a car and jumped over the Empire State Building, I couldn’t imagine a more superhuman feat.  I have had such a hard time forgiving people of far lesser sins that to hear what God did in her life is extremely powerful evidence that she has experienced the same love, the same joy, the same person that I have.  She has met Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.

Now, of course, atheists are going to pooh pooh such stories.  “Every religion has stories like that”, they will say with absolutely no evidence.  But how could other religions have such testimonies?  They don’t teach forgiveness or turning the other cheek or that all human beings need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ and therefore must forgive others.  If they don’t teach it, then why would we expect them to have such experiences?  In my experience, forgiveness is one of the hardest virtues to learn and when I see the faith of someone who performs an incredible feat of forgiveness, it is powerful evidence of things unseen.

**Amendment**

After I finished this essay yesterday, I thought about this essay for a while and it bothered me that I had implied the claim that it is impossible for those who do not walk with Jesus Christ to forgive others.  The Bible says, ” But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20) and I believe that this means that God empowers all men to forgive people if they earnestly desire to forgive.  I decided to leave the essay as written, however, because I believe in being honest about mistakes.

**Amendment 2**

So to illustrate what I mean to say in this essay a bit more clearly, imagine someone came to me and said, “Rob what is your evidence for what you believe?”  I used to think that Hebrews 11:1 was urging me to say, “You want evidence?  I offer you my faith which I possess in lieu of evidence.”  I now believe that what Hebrews 11:1 really means can be illustrated by a slightly different scenario.  “Rob, what is the evidence that you have that God is good and loving and kind?”  “You want evidence of God’s love?  Let me tell you about some other people that I know who have had the same experience of love and joy and forgiveness that I have had.  Our shared experience of faith is the manifestation of God’s love in the world.”

So this essay has had to be amended twice.  I suppose that this is a good place to say that while I feel free to correct grammatical or spelling mistakes that I have made on this site at any time, I don’t quite feel that way about substantive changes to what I have written.  I guess I want to emphasize that my walk of faith is really an exploration where my understanding is constantly changing.  Many Christians present a static picture of Christianity which is impossible for human beings to relate to.  As human beings, a process of growth and change is what we experience on a daily basis.  When Christians represent ourselves in a static way where we claim to have known everything about the Bible from the very beginning we present an alien and unappealing experience to those around us.  I tried to make this point in a recent post called  “The Great Sin of Elisha“.

 

 

 

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
This entry was posted in Biblical Difficulties and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Faith as Evidence

  1. celestttial1 says:

    The woman’s testimony is an example of her walking out the words of Jesus Christ. And it would be impossible for her to do this without the Holy Spirit. Because hers WAS a superhuman feat. I feel many of us in the church need to follow Christ and actually do what he says. Like when he says love your enemies and forgive those who hurt you, its not an option…he’s saying, this is how you pick up your cross and follow me-by obeying my words. She actually did. I on the other hand remember countless times that I slandered people for no other reason than I thought it was funny. Had I found out that somebody did that to me, I could say I forgive them, but if I held a place in my heart that says, “jerk”, according to Jesus, thats not forgiveness, therefore I won’t be forgiven, If the father won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others that means there are people in hell right now for what many people would probably consider very small sins.

  2. That last paragraph is bothersome. Of course other religions teach forgiveness. How can you make such a claim?
    http://www.miraclesofthequran.com/scientific_54.html
    http://jhvonline.com/forgiveness-a-jewish-value-p10208-220.htm

    So how does that woman’s story of forgiveness show your particular brand of religion to be more correct or better than other brands?

    I’m confused …

    • Mal,

      I amended my post to reflect some thoughts I had after I published the post. To an atheist, I would argue that this woman’s faith and her forgiveness are evidence of the divine acting in human lives. To a Muslim, I would argue that the cross is central to Christianity and forgiveness of sins is central to the cross. While there might be the occasional verse about forgiveness in the Koran, forgiveness is not one of the five pillars of Islam neither does the Koran emphasize the human need of divine forgiveness. Given the nature of human reality, why should this be? But the thing of primary importance to me is that such testimonies are powerful evidence of the love of Jesus Christ.

      • marclebard says:

        I think the faith as evidence article sounds like a nice interpretation. Basing response then on the idea of faith as evidence, I still find it more likely however that a personal experience would fit the preconceptions of those experiencing it instead of saying that the personal experience of christians are met specifically with experiences that match their belief, and that this experience that matches the believers preconceptions is unique. It’s like if someone who thinks fairies are real experiences things specific to that preconception, it’s not a “unique” and irrefutable experience because the main point is that everyone’s supernatural experiences can match their preconceptions. In fact, they SHOULD match and the christian’s unique personal experience therefore isn’t revealing.

        If a nonbeliever personally experiences something that validates a belief system, be it christianity or bigfoot (Apologies, I really don’t aim to say your belief is equivalent to someone else’s belief in bigfoot. Though from that person’s perspective I’d have to pay respects to his beliefs to in order to be able to continue conversation in an open, unguarded manner) it would still be worth pointing out that evidence of possibility precludes what experience can conclude. If you think you’ve seen a ghost, and yet have no evidence supporting the existence of ghosts, no experience contingent on the existence of ghosts can change the conclusion that you MUST have seen something that seemed like a ghost but was not. It’s only until you can first experience evidence for the fundamental point that ghosts exist that any experience prior would be able to have a ghostly conclusion.

        I might sound confusing, (something that would be my own fault) so in summary: Unless the experience directly evidences god, no experience contingent on evidence for god can lead to the conclusion that god or jesus was involved. Someone recovering from abuse, even to the extent in which that lady recovered (which I commend for her own recovery from mentally damaging experiences along with other reasons) does not evidence the work of god until there is evidence first that god exists, and not vice versa. Even IF such an experience uniquely matches the doctrine of forgiveness unique to the christian faith, this only matters given the first fundamental evidence on god’s existence is demonstrated.

        This is why such a story can be hugely reinforcing in people’s faith while not at all phasing others who don’t believe. In my eyes, her healing came both from herself and the confidence and hope she gained from her belief. I would easily conclude that it was god’s work if I believed in god but given I don’t believe, I Unfortunately, a belief needn’t be true to have such an effect and this has been proven.

        If faith is the manifestation of things hoped for, then such manifestations will never be recognized until evidence proving god exists first and foremost allows for belief in god.

        It’s also why I could witness the impossible and yet not conclude that something else I think is impossible can be the only explanation. This isn’t how the belief hierarchy works. Though I’m rambling a little with that point, aha. I truly look forward to your response, it’s either going to explain more about your post or explain why you think my points have flaws and either is right by me.

  3. karenzai says:

    Thank you for this! I must admit this verse had always been a stumbling block for me, too.

  4. Pingback: Detecting God | A Thoughtful Christian

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