Years ago I met a young woman of Native American ancestry at Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; we were on staff for a summer youth camp. She shared a version of the Twenty-third Psalm common to the Paiute Native Americans of McDermott, Nevada. Here is the way the Native American version begins:

The Great Father above a Shepherd Chief is.

I am his and with him I want not.

He throws out to me a rope and

The name of that rope is love. And

He draws me to where the grass is green

And the water not dangerous,

And I eat and lie down and am satisfied.

At the time I copied those words upon one of the end-pages in my Bible, as the primitive phrasing of the Psalm gave it a poignant edge deepening my gratitude for the truths the Psalm embodied. How easily its words come alongside the humblest believer, speaking to our deepest needs, refreshing us who are weary of the world’s too-much. Still, I ask: Does the Psalm truly speak to us … children of a science-interpreted universe?

Please understand that folk of my ilk rest easy with the mingled currencies of theology and science. We’re not averse to marrying faith and knowledge with its nuances and ambiguities. For the most part we do not view science as an enemy of faith. The technology that settles upon the shoulders of science, however, is something more fractious and demands our discerning.

Still, science hasn’t changed the fact that we are born and age through the years, maturing toward a destiny that lies beyond our mind’s measuring. We leave home in the mornings with our lunch pails, labor for our daily bread, after which we walk the dog and lay our wearied bodies to rest.

In the midst of this dailiness of our lives God’s shepherding continues, as it has from the beginning of time’s creation. The topography of our pilgrimage may well require that we shall have to wrestle down doubt and despair. Meantime, our lives are involved elementally with the routines, the successes and failures that accompany this business of living. The knowledge that science brings in no way detracts from our need of God’s shepherding where our humanity rubs shoulders with reality.

Much about life makes believing in God as the Good Shepherd God an acceptable, even reasonable position. Still, it is impossible to sidestep the fact that we live on a doubt-producing planet.

Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov allowed that “Our life’s a cradle that rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” It is difficult to embrace the world’s pain, this “tragic sense of life” and hold to our belief in God as the Good Shepherd. God’s ways continue to elude us. Though we pray, we have also found that God does not dance to the music of our need or the ostensible needs of the planet regardless of the fervency of our prayers. Admittedly, it’s a strange kind of shepherding.

Relative to much in life, we shall always be passengers rather than chauffeurs. We are required to live with the mystery of God’s ways. Paradox, nuance, faith and doubt will always be fundamental pieces of our believing. Possibly, you have known times as I have when God has “sat up with you through the night.” It is in view of my conviction that God is indeed the Good Shepherd who purposes something in giving us being, that I am quite prepared to pray as Soren Kierkegaard prayed:

“Father in heaven! When the thought of thee wakes in our hearts, let it not awaken like a frightened bird that flies around in dismay, but like a child waking from its sleep with a heavenly smile.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church, Saco, and may be reached at [email protected]