A Love Story That’s Not Just Between Two People

Maybe this post is what some might classify as weird. Yet . . . just maybe . . . this post is a reminder that there is a transcendent being who really cares about humanity.

Before I continue, be forewarned: this post has strong Pentecostal overtones.

This is about a love story . . . but it is not only a love story between two people but also between God and two people. It is a story that offers no scientific or naturalistic explanations, but rather it is a story with an enchanted worldview[1]. . .  of unexpected grace . . . of an unexpected gift . . . of unexpected ministry.

I begin my story during the spring of my junior year at a Pentecostal Bible college on the Plains of the USA.  I had decided on one late afternoon to visit some friends, a married couple who lived in student housing. I found the husband, who I will call Tyler, outside busily working on his truck while his wife, who I will call Stephanie, stood nearby. I really do not recall how the conversation started. I remember Tyler seemed quite preoccupied with his pick-up while Stephanie and I chatted about this and that when the subject turned to relationships. Unexpectedly, I heard Tyler say, “You are getting married sooner than you think.” Now, there are two things you need to know about this 40-something couple. First, they were jokesters, pranksters really; thus, one never knew when you might be . . . well . . . pranked. Second, they also were pentecostal through and through who had intensely experienced the supernatural. Since we were not in a prayer meeting and since we were just standing outdoors jabbering, I jumped to the conclusion (reasonable, I think under the circumstances) that Tyler was trying to pull a fast one, so I laughed. However, I heard his wife say, “The prophet is speaking.” Now, I was confused. Prophet? What are you talking about? Then, I heard Tyler repeat, “You are getting married sooner than you think.”

From that point, he began to describe a person that I was going to marry. I just stood there . . . dumbfounded.

It is possible that some of you may be thinking, “Oh, one of those . . . who thinks he hears from God.” I won’t deny that on occasion, I, too, have rolled my eyes and thought similar things. Although I had already had some unexpected supernatural experiences with this couple that had been spot on, I attempted to hold all such experiences with open hands, recognizing such words may or may not come to pass. After all, the Spirit continues to minister in the world today and will utilize fallible human beings who also err.

The words that were spoken described my future husband and the relationship, which in part included:

  • He would have a height of 5’10 or 5’11;
  • He would be in his late 20s or early 30s;
  • He would be intelligent;
  • I would know what true love was for the first time; and
  • It would be a quick romance.

I confess that I have never had an experience quite like this one, previously or since. I walked away thinking, “Okay, Pam, you are not sharing this with anyone. Instead, you will ponder these things in your heart so that the first person to hear this story will be the man that you will marry.” I also lectured myself to not hold too tightly to such words but to take a wait-and-see attitude.

A couple of months later, I attended a friend’s wedding out-of-state, and while I was driving home, I had one of those pentecostal experiences of “I-know-that-I know-that-I know.” I have had a handful of such experiences, and to be honest, they are hard to describe. It is like hearing a voice that is not part of you, yet it is. These are words that simultaneously come from outside of you and from deep within you, from that place which a pentecostal may call the knower. To put it simply, you just have this profound sense of knowing. The words were clear:

“You are getting married next summer.”

Say what? How can this be? I am not dating anyone. I am graduating next spring, and I cannot for the life of me even think of one person in whom I have any interest (no offense to my former classmates). Needless to say, I was pretty curious when I arrived on campus that autumn.

Within the first couple of weeks of school I remember spotting an older, new student. It was actually my roommate who pointed him out to me. Several days later, a classmate of mine introduced us, and thus began the journey of a friendship in which we took a walk and discussed theology and eventually ate lunch together on Thursdays while discussing more theology (only to learn later that the school cooks predicted our getting married after our first Thursday lunch).

As time passed, I was cognizant that this man was fulfilling the words from the prophecy. This was both exciting and a little disconcerting because many guys could fit this broad description. Thus, I took it upon myself to remind God (as if God needed any reminding) of this fact, and I explained to God that it would be helpful if I had one of those I-know-that-I-know-that-I know experiences.[2]

It was during our first official date in November that I realized that I did not know how tall this man was. For those of you who do not know, I am 4’10” so that anyone over 5’4” is considered tall in my book. I remember the occasion quite clearly. We had wandered into ShopKo and were by the houseplants since my husband was a former horticulturist.

“How tall are you?”

“Oh, about 5’10 or 5’11.”

And boom. Right there. In Shopko. By the plants. At an endcap. I was made to know in my knower. The words were so loud and clear that for a nanosecond I thought he must have heard it, too:

“This is the man, and you are marrying him next summer.”

I almost jumped out of my skin or passed out or audibly gasped . . . or maybe all three. Then, somewhere in the midst of this, I again heard my date’s voice:

“Why do you ask?”

Really? Do you have to ask that? What am I gonna say? Am I gonna tell you, “God just told me to tell you”? I don’t think so.

“I was just wondering.”

He bought it.

“How tall are you?”

“4’10.”

“I’ve dated a girl that was 4’10” once.”

Wheewww. That was close.

That was the Friday before Thanksgiving of that year. On November 30th of that same year, we became engaged—32 years ago—and we have been discussing theology ever since. And, yes, he was the first person I told of the prophecy.

However, this story is more than a love-story between two humans.

It is an illustration of the pentecostal worldview that is one of enchantment. Such a view holds to the action of a transcendent being who is separate from this world, which this transcendent being has created. But rather than being like one that is removed and not concerned with this world, this transcendent being, this triune God, loves and interacts with this world in small and large ways. While pentecostals may tell you that such experiences of which I have described here are not the norm, nonetheless, pentecostals hold to the view that God, through the Holy Spirit, works in this world. We believe that God is present in this world, sustaining it, and periodically, there are more intense instances of God’s presence (such as described above) that are gifts, or intense instances of grace.[3] Maybe a better way to say it is that these intense instances of grace are indicators that God is always ministering in this world. I say gifts or instances of grace because whether or not one is seeking or praying for a divine action, intense instances are gifts. They are grace. Like this above story, they are unexpected.[4] My experience was beyond my comprehension. It had not made the top ten prayer requests on my part, or even the top 100 . . . it had not even entered my mind. This divine action did not occur because of prayer and/or fasting or a certain measure of faith. This prophecy, this gift, occurred because this God is a minister, particularly to the broken.

God is a minister.

God enters into our nothingness . . . our impossibilities . . . our pain and ministers to humanity. I tell my students that we know God through God’s acts of ministry (thank you, Ray Anderson), which means, as Andrew Root would say, God is a minister.

And that spring when I was with Tyler and Stephanie, God ministered to me in my own fears through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit before I was even aware of my need. To be candid, I was raised in a family system in which the fear of abandonment was implicitly passed to me. It was in the air of my family system, and as a member of this system, I inhaled and exhaled this relational pattern. It was not until years later that I came face to face with my deeply instilled belief: People will abandon and/or reject me. No relationship was immune from this core belief as this was the lens I wore while in relationships, interpreting people’s behavior and words that would eventually lead to the inevitable outcome (or so I believed). However, there is one person with whom I have not worn this lens: my husband. Months prior to meeting him, God, utilizing Tyler and Stephanie as ministers, entered my fear and spoke to me about a man I would marry. Out of my fears, I had previously proclaimed more than once (even to Tyler) that I would not marry. However, God ministered to me, first through them and then to me. That is, God’s being ministered to my being, assuring me that God was with me in this relationship. Had this not occurred, I am fairly confident that this relationship would be like all others: living in fear as I suspected and/or believed that this man would leave me.

So it boils down to this: God, who is a minister, ministered to me. And God continues to minister in this world.

God was present and ministering when a 16-year-old girl watched as her mother arose from the dinner table, announced to her husband, “You would not care if I drowned myself,” and walked out the door. Within moments the girl’s phone rang as another teen four hours away called and asked, “What is going on? The Spirit told me to call you.” God ministered in the pain and hopelessness, entering humanity’s darkness. Or when a young couple was told by two doctors that the baby in the wife’s womb was dead, God came and ministered to them in this death. Today, that baby girl is 9 years old. Or when a woman experienced menopause prior to the age of 30, God entered, ministering to her in this void, this impossibility. Today, she and her husband have a son. Or while a father lays dying, a friend comes to sit with the daughter and listens as the daughter tells her story, being present as God is present in our night.

While we may stress the resurrection, let us not forget that God first entered our darkness. After all, this is the essence of the gospel, isn’t it? It is what God does in the human-divine one, Jesus Christ. God comes to humanity in our pain, in our brokenness, in our night. God comes, not while we are being good, pleasing, and righteous, but while humanity is God’s enemy, in conflict with, and in opposition to God, just as Romans 5:10 says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.” This is when grace comes. This is when humanity experiences ministry—when it is in blackness.

Thus, my story is an instance of portraying God’s ongoing love story with humanity. It is about grace. It is not about a just world in that if I do good (I pray; I fast; I memorize Scripture; I volunteer), then God will bless me (God provides for, heals, answers prayers, or favors me). Instead, it is about God continuing to come to humanity in God’s being, ministering to us, to our very being, in the middle of our darkness, our deaths, our vacuums.

This is God’s story. This is grace. This is the gift of ministry. This is God.

 

[for more of an understanding on this concept of God’s coming to us as a minister, see Andrew Root, Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014) and Andrew Root, Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church’s Obsession with Youthfulness (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017) from which these ideas for this post are drawn.]

 

[1] I am drawing from James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), ch. 3.

[2] For more reading about such experiences, see James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), ch. 3.

[3] Smith writes, “Because nature is always already inhabited by the Spirit, it is also primed for (not merely “open to”) special or unique singularities; these will not be “antinature,” because nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity. Rather, we can think of these “special” miraculous manifestations of the Spirit’s presence in creation as more intense instances of the Spirit in creation — or as “sped-up” modes of the Spirit’s more “regular” presences.” Smith, Thinking in Tongues, 104.

[4] Smith writes, “At the heart of pentecostal spirituality . . . is a deep sense of expectation and an openness to surprise. One of the reasons pentecostal spirituality is so often linked to spontaneity is that pentecostal worship makes room for the unexpected. Indeed, we might say that, for pentecostals, the unexpected is expected.” Ibid., 33.