Hebrews Doesn’t Say What Atheists Think It Says about Faith
by Amy K. HAll
An atheist objecting to one of my blog posts on Twitter said Christianity is “opposed to objective, empirical reality.” As evidence of this, he pointed to faith, saying Christian faith is “belief without evidence”:
Is faith not belief in the conviction/evidence of things unseen, which by their nature, do not have evidence? This is what your book says, does it not?
Is that what our Book says? Here’s Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
What Are the “Things Not Seen”?
Let’s start with the “things not seen.” What “things” is this chapter referring to? The verse parallels “things not seen” with “things hoped for,” and that is our first clue to what is going on in this passage. Here are some of the examples of faith given in the chapter:
- By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen [i.e., the coming flood], in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household. (11:7)
- By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance [as promised by God]; and he went out [as instructed by God], not knowing where he was going [i.e., where God was taking him]. (11:8)
- By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised [i.e., she trusted He would fulfill His promise before she could see the fulfillment]. (11:11)
- By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus [i.e., God’s future rescue] of the sons of Israel…. (11:22)
- By faith Moses…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. (11:24–26)
As you can see from these examples, “faith” is trust in God—trust that He will faithfully fulfill His promises in the future, trust that “He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (which is how 11:6 defines “faith”). It’s the kind of trust that leads to visible obedience now. The “things hoped for” were not yet seen by these faithful people because those events were in the future. In other words, the use of the term “not seen” is not meant to convey the idea of a lack of evidence; it merely stresses the idea of a future fulfillment.*
Here’s the key to understanding this chapter…