Dealing with Reality, Not Human Constructs

Dealing with Reality, Not Human Constructs


When we approach God—and the spiritual world in general—we often are dealing with human constructs rather than with reality. Sometimes it’s good to step back and look objectively at what we’re doing, in order to increase our chances of moving “further up and further in” toward the direct presence of God instead of remaining mired in our own imaginations.

To illustrate the general principle, I want to jump to an area where most of us get caught up in fallible, human ideas while we only play around the edges of God’s reality: intercessory prayer.

Reality in prayer

Many people who have powerful healing ministries or powerful intercession ministries have written books. Each writer, for the most part, tends to proffer certain basic principles that one should follow in order to succeed in healing or in intercessory prayer. Yet each book is different! Each ministry is different. People have different “techniques”: using your imagination to visualize the desired result; being sure the subject of the healing prayer asks for revelation about what God wants to teach through the illness; casting out spirits; praising God for the blessings that will arise through the illness; using the occasion of the illness to confess and/or repent of sins; “claiming the promises” of God; speaking commands in the authority of Jesus’ name; and so on.

Many rather disparate techniques work well, often in spite of what I believe to be somewhat unfortunate theology.

*According to my understanding of scripture, for example, people who advocate “claiming the promises” as a sure-fire way to (in a sense) compel God to act, are operating on a potentially dangerous spiritual foundation; yet they sometimes see pretty cool results from their prayers.

*One minister, whom I have known and loved for decades, sees an evil spirit behind practically every illness or misfortune, and appears to ignore fundamental realities of creation (i.e., that the natural world has plenty of power on its own even without spiritual forces); but he has a successful ministry, and many people are healed and delivered from long-standing sicknesses and spiritual bondages through his ministry.

*I know one minister who doesn’t believe very much in miracles, and whose standard approach when he prays for a sick person is to request not healing but merely comfort in the presence of suffering; yet one such prayer raised a woman from her deathbed overnight.

Different techniques or approaches or theologies, whatever vocabulary you want to use, clearly “work.”  But it is important that we recognize them for what they are: that is, mere techniques that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The greater reality is that no matter how we go about it, what we’re really doing is simply bringing the power and the presence of God into a situation. I’ve seen people “cast spirits out” of a person who, I was absolutely convinced, had a problem not with evil spirits but with brain chemistry. But that was OK—God doesn’t demand perfect clarity of understanding on the part of his ministers. The person was healed. And the reverse has happened: I’ve prayed with a group when I was convinced that the subject’s problem was demonic; but because no one else on the praying team believed in such things, I just kept my mouth shut and did my spiritual battle in silence while everyone else simply asked God for healing. And the person was healed.

Specific techniques are OK. Yet what works consistently for you may not work well for me, and vice versa. Anytime we teach techniques or principles or “spiritual laws” or whatever, it’s important to keep in mind that, while we may be defining a spiritual “mechanic” that truly helps channel God’s presence into a situation, we’re still defining only a mechanic. I have heard people with a powerful prayer ministry criticize individuals unfamiliar with their techniques, because these other people didn’t follow the official doctrine of praying with their eyes open and of keeping their hands slightly above the person they were praying for instead of touching the person. And once, when I was praying with some friends for a sick person, I was criticized afterward because I had prayed aloud shortly after the session began—my critic, who indeed has a powerful prayer ministry and whom I respect and love very much, explained that one should spend “at least five minutes” in silence before praying in order to be certain that the prayers are guided by the Holy Spirit (in fact, I had done my preparatory praying before arriving at the scene of the prayer session, and felt that the Spirit had already shown me precisely what to pray).

Even when we completely screw up because we’re blind to what is really going on in the spiritual world (including in God’s mind), that doesn’t doom our efforts. If I’m trying to cast out a spirit but the problem is biochemical, that doesn’t mean God won’t heal; or if I’m simply doing Please-God-help-this-person prayers when the situation ideally calls for deep counseling, that also doesn’t mean that God won’t provide deliverance. The reality we seek is the presence of God himself. We should be constantly aware that, in any given situation, our understanding of what’s going on may be totally incorrect. But that’s OK. God is not a legalist. The precious blood of the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world, covers us, and covers the person we’re praying for. The take-home lesson here is that we mustn’t take our actions, our thoughts, our prayers, our understandings, our methods, too seriously.

The deeper reality is God’s presence, not what we think is happening.

Reality in evangelism

Another example may further illustrate the general problem that we often fail to comprehend the spiritual reality of a situation, instead focusing on externals. Innumerable Christians have devised “programs” and “campaigns,” ad nauseum, aimed at converting people to Jesus. I believe the vast majority of such endeavors are fueled by human wisdom rather than by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Two examples:

*Several decades ago, when I was first beginning to have a relationship with Jesus, I was puzzled at the popularity of Billy Graham. My principal exposure to him was hearing sermons on my car radio from time to time, and reading a syndicated advice column he wrote that our local newspaper carried. The sermons were consistently insipid, I thought, and the newspaper-column advice actually pretty bad as often as not. I could not understand why in the world Graham was so successful in getting bajillions of people to decide to follow Jesus.

But then I happened to be in New York City when Billy Graham was holding an evangelistic crusade in Madison Square Garden, and I went one night. As soon as I walked into the building, the answer to all my questions was quite clear: The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable! “Aha!,” I thought to myself, “That’s why he’s so successful—it’s not Billy Graham at all, it’s the Holy Spirit!” And my thoughts were confirmed as the service continued. Graham’s sermon was as insipid as ever. I genuinely felt I could have preached a more effective evangelistic sermon. “How would that sermon have the slightest effect on anyone?,” I wondered to myself. But again, as the strains of “Just as I am, without one plea. . .” reverberated through the enormous space, I once again understood what was happening. It had nothing to do with the sermon. It was the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I figured Mr. Graham could have read the phone book instead of giving a sermon, and people would have responded. Yes, these massive crusades required enormous amounts of money and effort and months of preliminary work, and the logistical requirements no doubt were massive; but none of those things, in the end, moved people to accept Jesus. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit, who was powerfully lifting up the reality and the glory and the love of Jesus in such a commanding way that people with even the tiniest opening in their heart toward God would find it difficult to resist.

*We have known many people, and a number of entire churches, who put enormous effort into evangelism, with minimal results. Most evangelism campaigns focus on the things Christians can do to influence their neighbors to accept Jesus. I believe that most such efforts are a waste of time and resources. The focus should be on spiritual reality—in this case, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and learning from God how such anointing might come about in this particular instance—instead of on the outward trappings.

We have known two people who were called and anointed by the Spirit as evangelists. They didn’t have to worry about trappings or techniques or strategies. Each of these individuals, in very different contexts, described the same kinds of experiences: they virtually couldn’t help witnessing to people! And people responded in droves!

*Our female evangelist friend could be minding her own business, doing her laundry at a coin-operated establishment, when a complete stranger might sit down next to her and say, “Do you believe in God?” And that would give my friend an entree to speak about the love of Jesus (a true account).

*The young man who was an evangelist visited us one Sunday during the summer that I was chaplain at a Boy Scout camp. I offered to let our friend speak, but was immediately sorry because he rambled on in a horrible way that was overtly embarrassing to me, and that I was certain would completely turn off these scouts from attending my services for the rest of the summer. It was a really bad talk! It seemed inexcusable. But that evening, four of the young men knocked on our cabin door, saying they had been transfixed by what this young man had said, and wanted to know more about Jesus. This same friend had hitchhiked up to New Hampshire to visit us, and virtually everyone who picked him up had been someone who “happened” to be hungry for a relationship with God.

When God is in charge of a ministry, we don’t have to try too hard. All we need to do is obey—whether obedience means simply sticking out your thumb on the side of a highway (not as feasible now as it was when this story happened), or whether it means spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands of person-hours planning a mass meeting. It’s not the trappings, it’s the Holy Spirit’s anointing that counts. Our focus must be on the reality of God’s presence, not on the human factors that we construct around that reality.

Traditions: fine, if we’re not enslaved to them

Let me offer some almost trivial examples of how we can be enslaved to techniques or understandings or traditions.

*In a sense, almost any “formal” prayer is a religious act, not a natural one between two persons who enjoy, at least in theory, an intimate relationship. Case in point: exactly why do we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer? Is it to let God know, in case he can’t figure it out, that we’re now going to stop talking directly to him and start talking to each other again? But if several of us humans are standing around talking, even I am smart enough to know when you’re no longer talking to me but to someone else in the group. Is God not quite smart enough to figure it out?

Saying Amen is just “the way we have always done it.” The word Amen from the beginning was and essentially remained, at least in biblical times, a word of acclamation, or agreement, much as it is used in many African-American churches. But its use to mark the end of a formal prayer is rather foreign to its meaning, at least as it is employed in most instances. It’s supposed to be a way of saying, “Yeah! Right on! That’s it! I agree wholeheartedly!” But we most often use it to mean, “OK, the prayer is over, you can open your eyes now.” One friend of mine can be counted on to end every prayer with “Injesusnameamen,” mumbled so quickly that people wouldn’t know what he is saying if they weren’t already familiar with this formula. It’s as if my friend feels that the prayer won’t “count” unless that tag line is added.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice. But sometimes it’s good to take stock of the ways in which we substitute religion for reality—and by religion, I mean man-made practices intended somehow to enhance our ability to access God’s presence, because we’re “doing the right thing.”

*Another example: Why do we close our eyes when we pray? Largely because it’s tradition. Some would say it’s so we can focus our thoughts, since we’re addressing someone we can’t see. Do you close your eyes when you talk on the phone? Although you can’t see that person, you converse quite easily with your eyes open. This is something I seemed to understand even in my pre-Christian days when I would occasionally attend a Baptist church: Inevitably the time would come when the preacher would say, “Every head bowed, every eye closed. . .” I never liked that. It always seemed hokey. I figured that if God really was such a wonderful guy, he really couldn’t care less whether I had my eyes open or closed, or whether my head was up or down.

It’s no big deal. I have absolutely NO problem with people closing their eyes and bowing their heads during prayer; I often practice that perfunctory ritual myself. My point here is that it’s something we shouldn’t take too seriously. The reality we’re seeking is the presence of almighty God. The external trappings, the things we construct to “contain” that reality, aren’t very important.

I offer these examples because you’re familiar with them. My aim is for you to extrapolate from these trivial items to areas in your own life that may not be so trivial.

*Take “crafted prayer” and “theophostic prayer,” for example—techniques that can be extremely powerful. People using these approaches should always be on guard that they not focus on getting the process right instead of on the person to whom the prayer is addressed. No matter what technique or model I employ, I should always be sufficiently self-aware so that red flags immediately go up when I start being concerned that I’m not going about it in the acceptable way.

*I greatly appreciated Father Al, the late rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Champaign, Illinois, where we attended services on high holy days for over thirty years. He went through all the motions, of course, and he took them seriously: the meticulous folding of the cloths that cover the Eucharist elements, bowing appropriately to the boy swinging the incense to symbolically cleanse the altar, making the sign of the cross at the right times, etc., etc.  But he also had fun, and he clearly didn’t take it too seriously! If someone—typically an altar boy—messed up, Father Al laughed. He laughed fairly frequently, in fact, and you could tell that while he understood the wonderful and highly inspired symbolism that the high mass offers worshippers, he clearly saw that in a sense it’s still little more than a game (albeit a very serious game), and if something doesn’t go right it’s not a problem. Many priests take all the rigmarole way too seriously, seeming to believe that if they screw something up then it will be an affront to God. That’s sad, because they’re missing out on the blessing of freedom to which we as Christians are called; they’re missing out on the reality of God’s presence, because they’re too focused on the external trappings.

*Here’s an example of how easy it is to go with the superficial rather than the reality: Consider the name of our Savior. We say and do all sorts of things in the name of Jesus. But it’s tempting to make that phrase into a bit of magic, like the sons of Sceva in Acts 19. I think we Christians are much more guilty of this approach than we like to think. But what is the name Jesus? We place such confidence in that name, but it’s not even his real name. His name was in fact Yeshua (officially pronounced using a sound at the end that most English speakers can’t reproduce). And what am I doing when I speak that name out loud? In one sense, I’m just creating vibrations of air molecules. What’s so cool about that? Is there something magical about a particular combination of sonic frequencies? It’s easier to get caught up in the more superficial experience than to let myself be drawn into the reality behind that name. The idea of “in the name of Jesus” reflects a historical phenomenon of certain western cultures where a representative could act under the authority of another. Many languages don’t even have an equivalent concept.

So what is the deeper reality? I can’t even describe it without using my particular language, which of course is inherently inadequate—but somewhere in the mix is the real presence of the Son of God, and a sharing in the power of his death and resurrection, and being open to letting the light and fire of his love flow so powerfully into a particular situation that the present reality is supernaturally altered. That’s what is really going on. When we say “in the name of Jesus,” we mean all that and more. It’s shorthand. I don’t want to get hung up on a legalism about acting “in the name of Jesus.” Instead, I want to know the reality behind it.

Mistakes are inevitable

Our failure to see beyond external trappings to deeper realities applies not just to our encounters with God and the spiritual world. We generally don’t see people as they truly are, but rather with the emotions, motivations, and qualities we attribute to them. Our concepts are informed, of course, by our experiences, and the better we know someone, the better we are able to “read” them. But we never get it completely right. The greater the gulf between you and myself—whether that gulf is due to age, culture, language, or simply not having been around each other very much—the greater my inability to “read” you.

An example to which many of us can relate: How often do adults misread the motivations of children? When my kids were little, I frequently attributed to them nefarious motives for their constant “acting out.” But I learned in retrospect that, especially for the ones with ADHD, they simply couldn’t help being overly active to the point of being obnoxious. They weren’t being rebellious or seeking undue attention, as I believed, but rather were being slaves to their biology. I attributed to them the motivations I would have had had I been their age—for, you see, I was a quiet, retiring, shy, weak, self-effacing kid who sought above all to avoid having anyone look at me. So I wrongly projected my childhood psyche onto my kids.

We all do that with God. Attributing a particular act or event to God can be risky: We may be misinterpreting the situation entirely. But even if we are correct when we say about a particular situation that God has “caused” it, we also must beware of projecting our own motivations onto God.

What I assume is a strong disciplinary rebuke from God might be in fact a gentle kiss. And vice versa.

All that God does stems ultimately from his love for us. So the safest approach is to acknowledge at all times that God is love, and that he acts only out of his love. That’s the strong place of faith.

Feelings do not equate with spiritual reality

We often mistake our emotions for a greater reality, misinterpreting strongly emotional incidents—perhaps during worship, or in the Eucharist—as profound spiritual experiences. Maybe so, maybe not. All we can be sure of in some cases is that we’ve had a profound emotional experience.

God taught me this lesson decades ago, when I believed that, on various Sunday mornings during worship, I was experiencing him in a particularly deep way as I wept copious tears in recognition, during communion, of the depth of his love. One Sunday, however, the Holy Spirit pointed out that these profound, tearful “spiritual experiences” almost always happened on Sunday mornings before which I had gotten no more than three or four hours of sleep. He explained that the deep feelings were great, and were in fact useful for my continued growth into a more whole human being, and he was pleased for me, and it made him feel genuinely happy that I was so appreciative of his love—but they were not spiritual experiences (i.e., profound encounters with the living God); they were the result of sleep deprivation.

A frequent problem among Christians: we mistake emotional for spiritual experiences

Emotional experiences are great, of course, and they can help our psyches heal and grow. But they should not be confused with genuine encounters with the Almighty. Such encounters may in fact be accompanied by deep emotion, but they also can be rather objective. I frequently become very emotional during worship, with tears of love and thanksgiving dripping onto my shirt. Yet on most of the occasions when I am convinced I was in the presence of God in a powerful and life-changing way, I did not experience particularly strong emotion. In my case, I suspect it’s because God knows I’m SUCH an emotional person that if he didn’t shut down the emotional centers in my brain, I wouldn’t even be able to function during such an encounter. But that’s just a guess. Everyone is different.

Our hope, our goal, is to grow spiritually so that our emotions, our imaginations, our thoughts, even our bodies, increasingly reflect what’s happening in the spiritual realm. Ideally, our spirits (through whom we communicate with God’s Spirit), our minds, our emotions are all acting in parallel. Even the most mature, most profoundly knowledgeable Christians, however, must keep their guards up. Occasionally there are serious negative consequences from our inability to distinguish spiritual reality from subjective experience.

It happens all too frequently: Someone over the years has developed a deep relationship with our Lord. Perhaps she is a prophet or a healer. She has spent enormous amounts of time in prayer, and has undergone cleansing through the refining fire of the Spirit, to the extent that she is accustomed on a daily basis to hearing clearly what the Holy Spirit is saying. She is so accustomed to hearing him clearly, in fact, that she begins to assume—probably rather correctly, at first—that whatever thoughts she finds in her head are from God. And it’s this assumption that leads to the downfall. For along with this assumption that whatever comes to her is a God-thought, she is slowly and subtly seduced away from feeling the need to test these nudges from the Spirit. She begins to consider her mental experiences as a genuine reflection of God’s reality. That’s highly dangerous.

Paul said “We know only in part, and we prophesy only in part” (I Corinthians 13:9). As long as we are in this fallen flesh, we will get it wrong. I have heard stories of incredibly powerful, almost explosively anointed ministers of God whose “pipeline to God” seemed almost uncannily pure—but who apparently stopped feeling the need to test everything they heard from the Holy Spirit. In each case, these individuals eventually got something obviously, even catastrophically, wrong. The result was cataclysmic, leading more than one of these ministers to leave the faith entirely. They thought they were dealing with spiritual reality, but were in fact seeing or hearing what their own minds had created. They neglected a basic principle of spiritual development—to test, always to test, what they purport to believe is God, in order to be sure it’s not mere imagination.

In sum: our aim should be to experience the reality of God, not mere subjective experiences in which he may or may not be present.

Moral rectitude does not equate with spiritual reality

We often permit lesser matters to substitute for God’s reality in the area of morality. In one sense, right and wrong are themselves only linguistic constructs, as are good and evil. Rather than try to explain my point abstractly, let me start with specific situations that may allow you to see more clearly what I’m talking about. Although the specific sins that push our buttons may differ among us, almost all of us have the following kind of reaction to certain situations:

You read about someone who has had a couple of hundred lovers, many of them married. What’s your first reaction? I don’t mean your considered reaction, after you’ve had sixty seconds to think about it, but your first, gut-level reaction? Is it perhaps something akin to, “That’s WRONG!”?

Or perhaps you see someone weaving in and out of four lanes of traffic, going forty miles an hour faster than the traffic flow. Your first reaction might be like mine usually is: a basic feeling of anger and disgust, accompanied by a statement such as, “What a jerk—that’s wrong!”?

I don’t think those are our Father’s reactions. We tend to think of sins as actions or thoughts that somehow offend God. And they do indeed offend him, infinitely, but not in the way we usually think. In giving moral laws to Israel, and in giving moral guidelines to Christians, God did not arbitrarily say to himself, “Hmmm, I need to come up with some rules to foist on these people so they’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate adequate levels of obedience and show that they really want to serve me.” Rather, since he is the one who created us, he knows how we work, how human culture works. And everything he has ever said about “right” vs. “wrong,” “good” vs. “evil,” “sin” vs. “righteousness,” stems from his knowledge of what is life-giving and what is destructive. When God says “Do not covet” or “Do not lust,” it’s because he knows that when we do those things we are diminished, pulled away from him toward darkness. And when we “sin” by doing something that is “wrong,” it’s not that we have broken one of his strict commandments and therefore he is pissed off at us. Rather, he is hurt because he loves us and it pains him to see us pulled away from him, away from the light, away from life, and toward darkness and death. That certainly angers God, but not in the “I-cannot-wait-to-punish-this-disgusting-worm” kind of way.

When my moral sense is offended by someone’s evil action, in most cases I’m not reflecting God’s heart but rather my own legalistic feelings. A rule of thumb: if a major reaction on my part to someone’s misdeeds, no matter how heinous, involves punishment, then I most likely am not reacting with the heart of our Lord. I would encourage you to set up little signals in your brain that will ring a tiny bell whenever you find yourself offended by someone, whenever you find yourself feeling, “Ooh, what a terrible person, that’s so wrong! I hope he gets what’s coming to him!” And when you hear that mental alarm ringing, ask yourself whether you’re encountering the reality behind good and evil, or instead simply reacting on the level of human legalism.

Let me give another example of this phenomenon, something we periodically see in news reports. Whenever there is a mass murder, there are almost universal expressions of disgust and condemnation on the part of the general public. But there’s one exception in almost every case, one person or small group of people who react quite differently. Their pain is probably deeper than anyone else’s, perhaps even deeper than the pain of the victims’ families. I’m referring to the families of the murderers. They are incomparably devastated. They don’t express hatred toward the killer—they can’t, because they love him. I think that’s a distant mirror of our Father’s love for us. When we sin, when someone else sins, no matter how heinous the act, God doesn’t hate, he doesn’t condemn. He is crushed, hurt, devastated, because his love is infinite; but he doesn’t condemn. The Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world. Our Lord takes all sin into himself, bearing the pain and the hurt of the sins, the diseases, the choices, the heartaches, of every creature who has lived on this planet—he loves us so much that he pledged not only to bear all that horror and darkness and death, but to swallow it up in life and victory, to redeem it, so that in the end the creation will indeed be the glorious dance he intended it to be. And it should be our aim to have his mind and his heart toward his creation, including all the dark stuff in it.

So my challenge is for us all to seek the ultimate spiritual reality behind morality, behind concepts of good and evil. Instead of reacting on superficial levels that easily categorize things we see into good and bad, moral and immoral, let us seek instead to know God’s heart in every situation—the heart that is not so much offended as wounded, not so much angered as pained, the heart that chooses not to condemn but to redeem. That is God’s reality.

 Theological understanding does not equate with spiritual maturity

Virtually all religions, including the Christian religion (which I believe to be not from God to the extent that it is a religion) are based in one way or another on legalism—on the idea that right standing with deity, however deity is defined, is accomplished by right actions and/or right belief. This is the default heresy for Christian groups. Grace is very difficult to accept, even for those of us who espouse it quite vocally. One group in our city formed around the central understanding of God’s radical grace, in part because the members of the group felt that none of the existing Christian fellowships in our area sufficiently understood the radical nature of the grace of God through Jesus. Unfortunately, the group eventually broke up due to strong disagreements on exactly how God’s grace operates—some members felt that the others were in error in their understanding of grace, and therefore not worthy of fellowship! A close friend of ours told us how strongly he believed in the radical grace of God—he believed Christians who failed to have his particular understanding of God’s grace were destined for hell! Go figure.

Doctrines are fine, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Many of the most fundamental doctrines of traditional western thought couldn’t even be translated into some languages in a way that would make the least bit of sense. God wants us to know him personally, not necessarily know how he might be “three persons with one essence.” Whatever that means. I believe deeply that it’s immeasurably more important to know our Lord as a lover and redeemer than it is to know that, as I read on a random theological website, “With reason, then, we worship ‘One God in trinity and trinity in unity; neither confounding the persons, nor separating the substance. . .’” Ouch!

I am rather confident in my assertion that, no matter how “accurate” my theology, no matter how well my understanding of scripture points me toward God’s reality, if I were to step into eternity and look at my understanding from God’s viewpoint, it would be laughably akin to a six-year-old’s understanding of general relativity. The same almost certainly holds true for your understanding. We get caught up in theology and ideas and principles and explanations of covenants and spiritual laws and dispensations and all sorts of clever word studies, etc.  And these might well be useful efforts. I love the Bible, and I love to do exhaustive word studies and exegeses. In the end, however, these are little more than intellectual exercises that, we hope, help us point our spiritual compasses a little closer to true north. We err mightily when we take our understandings, our theology, our biblical interpretations, too seriously. In the long run, God isn’t nearly as excited about our getting things “right” as we are.

The only theological precept about which I am 100% confident is the assertion that we are all wrong.

Jesus died, not to help us attain better intellectual understanding of God, but to reconcile us to God, to enable us to join God’s family so that we could know the delight of his original intention toward us—which was for immeasurably joyful, profoundly passionate relationships both among humans and between humans and the Father. The reality of the kingdom of God entails walking with him, knowing him, loving him, experiencing his power—NOT getting our doctrines perfectly straight. For the past two thousand years, multitudes of people have experienced incredibly deep, healing, joyful relationships with the Father, even though their understandings of theology and of the Bible were appalling.

Our hope, then, is that we will not get hung up on being “correct” in our understanding of the gospel, but will rather focus our eyes on the deeper reality to which the gospel points—that is, our relationship with God.