PSALM 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3     he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
    for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff—
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

Faith is nothing supernatural, and even though it was named  a “spiritual gift” by the apostle Paul, it’s not something that God gives to some and not others. In its word origins, “faith” is not about knowledge or doctrines, or even your willingness to believe what the doctrines say. It is much more existential than that.

You can believe that God exists and still not have faith. You can even believe “in” God – meaning that you have a strong emotional allegiance to what (your) God stands for – and have no faith at all. In fact, as impossible as it may sound, it is frequently the case that individuals who lack faith are the most outspoken, “evangelical,” and aggressive about what they believe.

If it’s not believing that God exists or in what God represents, then what really is faith? Very simply, it is trust. But isn’t trust your willingness to believe what can’t be proven or doesn’t make logical sense? Yes, trust can mean that. Faith, however, is a different kind of trust.

You might trust another person’s word, the conclusions of scientific research, or even the testimony of scripture. In such cases you are choosing to accept a proposition (a statement or claim) as an instance of truth-telling. If the Bible says that God exists – or that heaven and hell exist, or that miracles happened, Jesus rose from the dead, and the apocalypse is coming – your willingness to believe it is based on your interpretation of what those claims mean and your determination of how trustworthy the source is.

But it still isn’t faith.

Faith is not a function of religion, and it really has nothing to do with religious claims. It involves what can be called spiritual intelligence, but you don’t have to be “spiritually smart” to have faith.

Faith is the act of releasing yourself in trust to the supportive and provident nature of reality. The alternative is not disbelief or atheism, but anxiety and the separation from reality caused by gripping up inside yourself and forgetting that you’re not alone.

Once upon a time, you knew this connection intuitively (if unconsciously) which allowed you to spontaneously and effortlessly relax into being. As the months and years passed, however, you learned how dangerous the world can be, how hurtful people can be, and how staying intact necessitates that you pull away and curl up inside a shell of safety and control.

At a certain point, what had once been effortless became effortful and risky, making the prospect of leaving this shell of identity and fully surrendering to reality seem like death itself.

This must be the “darkest valley” the psalmist writes about. When you’ve reached the limits of your control, when the bright path of purpose drops into darkness ahead of you and it feels like all security is gone, that’s when faith matters.

You die to the old certainties and let yourself fall into the gracious presence of “Thou.”

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