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The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 4)

March 23, 2015

This is a continuation of the last post. We're examining biblical passages that demonstrate the following six patterns in how God works to provide evidence for our faith in him. The six patterns are:

1. God provides evidence whenever he asks us to believe something, especially when he does something new. 

2. God expects us to test and verify the evidence he provides. 

3. God does not want us to be irrational. He does not want us to be overly skeptical or overly gullible, but to find the rational center. He rebukes those who refuse to test the evidence, believe too easily, don't believe despite the evidence, or refuse to infer beyond the merely empirical things.  

4. God provides evidence on his own terms. It is meaningless to test the evidence from outside the framework provided by God himself.  

5. We are to remember the previous evidence that God has provided, and take the past history of his faithfulness as evidence for our belief.  

6. Dramatic evidence, in the form of miraculous signs and wonders, comes only when God is doing something new and important. Other time periods are relatively more quiet.

The following is a partial list of the Bible passages in the Gospels that support these patterns:
Matthew 6:28-30:
In this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus rebukes his listeners for having little faith, right after providing an argument from nature for why they SHOULD have faith. In general, whenever Jesus calls for faith, he always provides a reason to have that faith - in the form of a miraculous sign, an argument from nature, or from a previous revelation.

Matthew 8:23-26:
Jesus calms a storm. When the disciples were fearing for their lives because of the storm, Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. He then immediately demonstrates that he's worthy of that faith by calming the storm. His call to faith is backed up by immediate evidence.

Matthew 13:54-58:
Jesus does not perform miracles for those who lack faith. He provides evidence on his own terms.

Matthew 14:22-33:
Jesus walks on water. Peter, seeing this, asks Jesus to call him out of the boat to walk on water as well. Jesus does not rebuff him, but instead tells him to come on out - God is pleased when we act on our faith and ask for more evidence according to his will. Peter comes out of the boat and walks on water, but then begins to fear and doubt and sink into the water. It is only at this point that Jesus rebukes him for having little faith, because he doubted DESPITE the fact that he was ALREADY walking on water. His doubt was not in line with the evidence of that very moment.

Matthew 17:14-20:
Jesus again rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, because they could not drive out a demon. Their lack of faith was not in line with the evidence of Jesus's numerous previous miraculous signs, nor their previous commission to drive out demons. After rebuking this lack of faith in spite of the evidence, Jesus then drives out the demon himself, again demonstrating that he's worthy of having the disciple's faith placed on him.

Matthew 21:18-22:
Jesus tells the disciples that anything is possible if they have faith, right after demonstrating this to be true by causing a fig tree to wither. Again, his call to faith is backed up by evidence.

Matthew 27:38-44:
As Jesus is being crucified, people mock him by saying that they will believe he is the Son of God if he could come down from the cross. Of course, Jesus does not. This is a clear illustration how God provides evidence only on his own terms, and it shows why things must work that way: when people without faith ask God for a miraculous sign, it is often done in complete ignorance of how and why God works miracles. Furthermore, in egregious cases like the mockers at the cross, their demand for a miracle is not only in ignorance of God's character, it is diametrically opposed to his purpose in sending Jesus in the first place. To use a scientific analogy, the mocker's demand is like saying "I'll believe in evolution if you could give birth to a monkey right now". Not only does such a demand completely misunderstand what evolution actually says, such a birth would in fact DISPROVE evolution. OF COURSE God is not going to listen to such a demand for a sign - providing such a sign would in fact would be evidence AGAINST the very idea that it's supposed to prove, that Jesus is the Son of God. This is why God provides evidence on his own terms. In fact, it is why EVERY hypothesis must be evaluated on its own terms.

Mark 5:35-43:
Jesus tells the people sent by Jairus - whose daughter had just died - to not be afraid, but to believe. He then backs up this call to faith by raising the daughter from the dead.

Luke 24:18-35:
Jesus has risen from the dead, and shows himself to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. Jesus rebukes these two for their slowness in believing in the resurrection. They were already aware of the testimony of the women who had seen Jesus after Easter, and that the Scriptures prophesied about the Messiah - but they did not yet believe, for which Jesus calls them foolish. God does not want us to just stop upon looking at the evidence in front of us. He wants us to reason with it, and infer things from it, and use the witnesses and the Scriptures to understand things beyond themselves. Jesus rebuked the two on the road to Emmaus because they were not doing these things. They were treating the evidence they already had as mere facts with no further implications. He wants us to think, rather than to merely observe.

John 1:47-51:
This is the meeting between Jesus and Nathanael. Nathanael is willing to believe that Jesus is the Son of God because Jesus knew that Nathanael had recently been under a fig tree. Interestingly, Jesus does NOT commend Nathanael for his faith - Jesus instead tells him that he will see greater things. Jesus is effectively telling Nathanael that he should not YET believe that Jesus is the Son of God, but that it'll be okay because he will soon see enough evidence in the days to come. God does not want us to believe everything - not even if some of these things are done in his name - but instead wants us to follow the evidence.

John 2:11:
Jesus's disciples started to believe in him because of his miracle at Cana, of turning water into wine. Jesus didn't say, "just have faith" to his disciples then expected them to blindly believe in him. He provided evidence - a reason for them to put their faith in him.

John 4:4-42:
This is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. He tells her to believe him, but he also gives her a reason to believe him - first by engaging in a personal spiritual discourse with her, then by showing that he knows deep, specific details about her. He then stays in the women's town for two days and draws many people to believe in him, to give them a better evidence than a single woman's word for their new faith in him.

John 9:1-38:
Jesus heals a blind man, then asks the man to believe in him. Once again, the call to faith is accompanied by evidence for that faith.

John 10:37-38:
Jesus outright tells people NOT to believe him unless he does "the works of [the] Father". He also says that even if they don't believe him, they should look at the works he's done, so that they would come to believe in him. Again, God does not want us to just believe without evidence, but rather to follow where the evidence leads. On the other hand, he also doesn't want us to refuse to follow the evidence that inevitably leads us to him. Believing without evidence and disbelieving despite the evidence are both irrational, and God opposes both forms of irrationality.

John 11:21-44:
This story starts with Jesus making some incredibly bold statements about himself, then asking Martha to believe him. He then backs up these ridiculously bold statements by raising Lazarus from the dead. Once again, Jesus backs up the call to faith with evidence for that faith.

John 19:35:
After describing Jesus's crucifixion, John calls us - his readers - to believe the things written in his book. He does so on the basis of his status as an eyewitness to these events.

John 20:
This is the story of the resurrection: Jesus's resurrection is confirmed by a superabundance of evidence, including the empty tomb, the burial cloth left behind, eyewitness testimonies, encounters with the risen Christ, the Scripture's prophesies, and in case of Thomas - an offer by Jesus to see and touch Christ's wounds. All of this is recorded so that we - the readers - may believe. Once again, the pattern is that God provides evidence when he asks us to believe something, and the record of these things then serves as evidence for those who come after them.

Throughout the Gospels, every single call to faith is accompanied by a reason for that faith. At no point in the Gospels does Christ or any of his disciples ask for anyone to have anything like "blind faith". Both faith without evidence and unbelief in spite of evidence are condemned: we are always to follow the evidence.

In the next post, we will continue to examine select passages from the remainder of the New Testament.


You may next want to read:
The role of evidence in the Christian faith (Part 5) (Next post of this series)
How physics fits within Christianity (part 2)
Key principles in interpreting the Bible
Another post, from the table of contents

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