Faith is Final Evidence (Hebrews 11:1)

The Faith, sculpted in stone from Badajoz in 1...

© Domenic Marbaniang, Explorations of Faith (2009), Chapter 1.

Hebrews 11:1 - "Faith is...the evidence of things not seen."


The second part of this statement is parallel to the first. It modifies the first clause. Thus “substance” is “evidence” in the same manner that “things hoped for” are “unseen”. A significant truth of revelation here is that faith doesn’t need further evidence for its existence than its presence itself. Since it is the final ground of the things hoped for, it is also the evidence of the things hoped for. It is not based on anything else. It is the basis for everything that we know and experience. Attempts to base faith on rational or empirical proofs, i.e. on logic or experience, adds nothing to it. These may help to justify beliefs but cannot be the source of faith. One must not search for evidence for faith. Faith itself must be seen as the evidence for everything else. In fact, it is through the eyes of faith that meaning and the meaningfulness of divine truths is discerned. One proceeds from faith to the things and not from things to faith.

The Greek word for ‘evidence’ is elegchos (ἔλεγχος), which can either mean ‘proof’ or ‘conviction’. A conviction is an unshakeable belief in something without need of proof or evidence. This talks about the finality of this kind of faith. It doesn’t need evidence. The other meaning implies that having this faith itself is the evidence that the unseen things hoped for are true. That you can have faith for the things you hope for is the surest evidence of their reality and possibility.

There are, however, certain criteria to measure the authenticity of such faith since this could easily lead to superstition and false belief. First of all, the believer must possess a sound mind. This is necessary in order for faith not to be based on illusions or delusions; one knows that there are many in the lunatic asylums that have strong faith about many things which are not true. Secondly, faith must be open to reason;[1] in other words, open to verification and falsification[2] or, at least, justification. Faith is justified belief; by this is meant that the believer must always be able to give a justification for his faith as the Scripture says “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” (1Pt. 1:15). This doesn’t mean that faith follows evidence; nor that evidence strengthens faith. On the other hand, it means that faith in itself is neither irrational nor without evidence, but is full of proofs though not based on proofs; therefore, an evangelist is never short of proofs – in fact, he might often be astounded by the proofs of his faith. Thirdly, this faith must be connected with righteousness and peace.[3] This is so because the faith of God cannot contradict the character of God. By righteousness is meant not only that this faith is internally consistent (possesses integrity), but also that it is legally consistent (conforms to the righteous Law of God). At the same time, it engenders peace (good relationship with God and removal of fear and doubt). Fourthly, and most importantly, it must not contradict the written Word of God, i.e., the Scriptures, which reveal God. By this is meant that it must not contradict the real import of Scriptures – this doesn’t apply to false interpretations of Scriptures; faith has nothing to do with them.

Now, to say that faith is the “evidence of things unseen” means that the invisible things are proven by faith. Evidence may be classified into two categories: rational evidence and empirical evidence. Rational evidence is expressible in the form of arguments or reasoning. Empirical evidence may be divided into two further groups: primary evidence and circumstantial evidence. Primary evidence is based on first-hand witness (e.g. the disciples saw the risen Lord). Circumstantial evidence is evidence not drawn from direct observation (e.g. the empty tomb). Faith is neither rational nor circumstantial evidence; it is primary evidence. In other words, faith is neither a set of arguments nor a set of data that needs interpretation and verification. On the other hand, the experience of faith itself is evidence of things unseen because it is the experience of a knowledge that is revelatory, illuminating, and convicting; it is the experience of the truth of God. To have the faith of God, therefore, means to possess the truth of God. Thus, though the things hoped for are invisible to us now, they are clearly known to faith.

Faith as evidence is also source of knowledge. Undeniably, faith is a voluntary act or else personal responsibility and even truth would be mythical. For if man doesn’t know by exercise of his will then his knowledge is determined; but if determined then there is no possibility of verifying that knowledge to know whether it is true or false. Man would only know and believe what he is programmed to believe. But faith as voluntary act is the precursor to knowledge as Jesus said, “If any man desires to do His will (God's pleasure), he will know (have the needed illumination to recognize, and can tell for himself) whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from Myself and of My own accord and on My own authority” (Jn. 7:17, Amplified). Thus, the will-to-believe is the condition for the knowledge of truth. If anyone is unwilling to accept the truth, then all evidence is meaningless (perhaps detestable) to him. Therefore, faith as evidence (Sanskrit, pramana meaning also source of knowledge) is also source of knowledge.

One question that may arise in this connection regards the source of faith. Obviously, the source cannot be either reason or experience. For that would mean that faith is based on them and is not itself the final evidence. Further, any amount of reasoning cannot produce the absolute assurance that faith possesses. Thus, reason cannot be the basis of faith. In fact, as the French mathematician Blaisé Pascal argued, to say that one believes on the basis of reason is to beg the question. For, one needs to first believe in reason itself before believing in its results. That is to say, reason itself is originally based on faith. Reason cannot be based on reason for that would evidently beg the question. The same also extends to experience. One can doubt the reality of everything about experience, as the French philosopher René Descartes showed.[4] Consequently, faith itself cannot be based on experience. One chooses to believe in experience; one doesn’t have faith out of experience in the ultimate sense. Thus, experience can only be the source of knowledge when it is based on faith. Faith can only be final when it is not ultimately based on reason and experience. All knowledge of this world, therefore, deriving from reason and experience is not final. There is always some element of doubt that is admissible. But the faith of God, as has already been seen, is fully assured and final. In fact, this faith of God is that which stabilizes knowledge by giving meaning to both reason and experience. That is the reason why, disbelief in God, in its final form, leads to a sense of absurdity, hopelessness, skepticism, cynicism, and nihilism.

The source of faith then can be neither reason nor experience. What then is the source of faith? It is an encounter with the revelation of God as the Scripture says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). This doesn’t mean that one has faith as soon as one hears God’s voice; but, one exercises faith only when face to face with the revelation of God. In fact, one may choose to even reject the revelation. Faith is a choice, it is not automatically produced. When one encounters the revelation of God one has the choice of accepting it or rejecting it. The nature of both the encounter and choice is spiritual and not rational or physical. Therefore, the choice is also a moral one. Further, the truth revealed is spiritual and so physical events (e.g. miracles etc) cannot be regarded as final proof of it. The truth itself is its proof and is known only by someone who responds in faith. The one who rejects it remains unprofited by the encounter (cf. Heb. 4:2). The one who accepts it, however, is immediately ushered into the reality of God and, thus this faith becomes the substance and evidence of the unseen things one hopes for. As long as reason and experience are held on to, uncertainty and temporality holds the scepter; but faith unchains one from the infinite sequence of evidence and takes one beyond uncertainty to the substance, the ground, the confidence, and the evidence of the things of God.

The value of this faith is not measurable by human standards: it is only measured by God. The possession of this solid faith of God earned the elders a good report and testimony (Heb. 11:2). This was so because they possessed the thing they hoped for in the form of faith even though the fulfillment was scheduled only at the last day. They were undaunted by the present circumstances but were faithful to the end because of the assurance they had in God. Their faith was their evidence of the things still invisible to us, and by it they obtained a good testimony, God Himself testifying about their faithfulness. Their choice took them beyond uncertainty to obtain a good testimony from the Father.

In view of what we have seen this far, it is obvious that the source of all frustration, fear, anxiety, boredom, vexation, emptiness, loneliness, and hopelessness is either the weakening of or the loss of faith. Of course, the world presents us with the crisis of faith: reasons for not believing in God. But the world has no substitute for the faith of God. To trust in the world or in man is to sink with the ship. Soon the loss of faith gives way to conscious or unconscious escapism. The means of escapism are not few and the worldliest are the most evil ones as well, hurting self and society. But they are also false ones along with the reality of their being temporal as well. They do not and cannot give eternal solace. It is the faith of God alone that gives true meaning, purpose, and reason to life.

[1] Divine wisdom is ‘open to reason’ (Jas. 3:17, RSV).
[2] Of course, faith as assurance is confident that it cannot be falsified- truth is crystal clear to it, but this doesn’t mean that it is not open to trial.
[3] And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the service of righteousness shall be quietness and hope forever (Isa. 32:17, MKJV).
[4] Descartes proceeded on his methodology of doubt and doubted everything except the fact that he was the one who was doing the doubting. His famous conclusion “Cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”, however, was disqualified by later philosophers and also Buddhist philosophy according to which the consciousness of a self or “I” might be just be an illusion created by the combination of several factors. Thus, everything could be doubted if experience were looked at as fundamental to knowledge.

© Domenic Marbaniang, Explorations of Faith (2009), Chapter 1.


Popular Posts