I am a pentecostal . . . albeit a Modified one.
I was raised as a Classical Pentecostal and received my undergraduate degree from a Pentecostal college. I was taught to believe, and I continue to believe, in experiencing God’s presence and divine interventions in this life.
But what if . . .
life goes sideways and God does not intervene as you prayed or expected? What happens then?
I was such a pentecostal.
I had been experiencing an upward trajectory in life, one that was supported by supernatural, pentecostal-type experiences. In other words, I had been experiencing God’s presence.
But then . . .
life made an abrupt turn. God became apparently absent. And my theological moorings were disrupted. I had now become a pentecostal who was experiencing God’s absence.
If we would be brutally honest, life is not always about smiles and everything being great . . . no matter how our social media posts may appear. At those times when adversity strikes, we want God to remove the suffering . . . NOW! But when God doesn’t supernaturally intervene, many of us wonder, “God, why aren’t you doing something? This is when I need you the most!” On such occasions, we find ourselves experiencing God’s apparent absence.
It was during such a time that I discovered a grace that kept hold of me amidst my darkness. I learned of a God who weeps and who enters my void, and it is this divine presence that transforms and heals.
I realized the irony of God’s ministry to humanity: Embrace Absence, Encounter Presence.
Many of us think that if God is present, God will deliver us out of a bad situation. I certainly did! If I am sick and God shows up, then God will physically heal me. If God is present, then God fixes it. But I discovered this is not the only way God heals. God also transforms and heals by entering into our pain (our void) by being with us. This was an expansion of my previous understanding about Jesus’ healing power. Pentecostals traditionally emphasize the physical healing power of Jesus, which they believe continues to operate today. My understanding was enlarged as I saw that Jesus ministered to humanity by entering our death to heal us. That is, God embraces our void—death— so that we may encounter God.
I realized that if this was God’s ministry to humanity, we had an opportunity to participate in God’s ministry of presence in the power of the Spirit. We frequently speak of laying hands on the sick, like, Jesus in order that they would be healed. Now, I saw that being present to sufferers, like Jesus was present to humanity’s death, was also healing. Such an understanding of presence was deeply connected to my pentecostal roots. Pentecostals often speak of moments in their lives when they experienced God’s presence in a powerful way. At such times, they tell of sensing God’s comfort, strength, and love that transformed them even though their circumstances had not changed. Such testimonies reveal the power of the ministry of presence in the power of the Spirit, in which we now have an opportunity to participate. This means that when we embrace the apparent absence of God alongside others who are suffering, they encounter presence. When we sit alongside others in their suffering, they experience God’s healing. When we listen to their stories of adversity, we are participating in God’s ministry of healing presence to them.
For more on my own story, read blog post The Unmapped Experience: An Escort to Empathy.
And in case you want the official version about my credentials and stuff like that . . .
Dr. Pam Engelbert is a pentecostal who is a practical/pastoral theologian. She has served with her husband as co-pastors in the U.S. and as missionaries overseas. She now travels overseas to teach block courses in the areas of pentecostal pastoral care and pentecostal history/theology. As a pastoral theologian, she teaches how to communicate empathically to others and researches/writes in the area of suffering and healing. She is the author of a book called, Who Is Present in Absence? A Pentecostal Theological Praxis of Suffering and Healing (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2019) in which she interviewed eight pentecostals who experienced extended suffering in which God did not intervene as expected. To read more about this, see the page called Book for more information. She also includes in her book a chapter on Compassionate Communication as a way to participate in Christ’s ministry of presence to the hurting through the power and presence of the Spirit. To read more about Compassionate Communication, see the page called Teaching.
Inconsequential Stuff about Me:
Any day is a good day for a slice of cheesecake.
I am a Generation Xer who lives with her husband in Colorado.
I enjoy reading the works of practical theologian Andrew Root.
I am a fan of classic movies, such as North by Northwest. And had I been born earlier, I probably would have been a Cary Grant groupie.
I listen regularly to singer/songwriter Sara Groves.
My favorite TV show of all time is Monk.
Since I was raised on a farm, I learned to drive tractor and combine prior having a license to drive on the road.