While reading Hunter James Davison book To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, I found his third essay on the theology of faithful presence a great reminder to examine how I am doing in my relationship with God and others around me. Hunter begins with a profound statement saying, “For Christian believers, the call to faithfulness is a call to live in fellowship and integrity with the person and witness of Jesus Christ”(p.197). For Hunter, this faithful presence, “ …begins with an acknowledgment of God’s faithful presence to us and that his call upon us is that we be faithfully present to him in return.” This makes me think that as believers our relationship with God should be prioritized before than anything else if we wish to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives. To know His purpose, as Hunter states, we need to cultivate “the disciplines of individual devotion—prayer, meditation, fasting, study, simplicity, and solitude, among others” (p.244). Practicing faithful presence as an individual is not enough. We must be part of our local church community where “we participate in presenting ourselves to God as a worshipping community; fully present through participation in the sacraments, collective adoration, repentance, contemplation, intercession, devotion, and service” (p.244). That is, in Hunter’s words, “the foundation, the logic, the paradigm” (p.243). If we look at Jesus’ ministry we see how he sets a prime example for us in his faithful presence with God the Father and with the people he came to serve. Though he is the Son of God, he always found time and space to be with God the Father. Luke in his gospel tells us of one of these incidents where Jesus heals a man with leprosy and as a result “the crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:12-16). Now as I think about my busy life, it has been challenging, especially this term, to slowdown and make space and ample time to be fully present in His presence. I appreciate that Hunter invites us again to rethink our highest purpose in life. He says, “We, as Christians, are fully present to him as he is to us—not for what we get out of it or what he can do for us but simply because he is to God and worthy of our adoration. As he does not pursue us for instrumental purposes, so we do not pursue him for instrumental purposes. As our creator and redeemer, our highest aim is to be in his presence; worshipping and enjoying him forever” (p.244).
Another crucial point that Hunter highlights in this essay is about attributes of God’s faithful presence. The central argument of his theology of ‘faithful presence’ is based on Jesus’ incarnation. Per Hunter “God’s faithful presence implies that he pursues us, his identification with us, the life he offers, his sacrificial love.” (p.242) As believers we know God has unconditional love for us despite our weaknesses, but our challenge is we have implicit conditions when it comes to sharing his love with others. In my church, often I hear sermons and songs about Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, and it is good. But we hardly talk about the implication of Jesus’ sacrificial love in our personal and communal context. We are comfortable identifying with people who look like us and not with others who look different from us. Our evangelism approach is one-sided, focusing only on saving souls but failing to address other aspects of social justice. But as Hunter argues, our Christian calling is to be light and salt for people in our community and to those who are not (p.244). We are called to be fully present and committed to our tasks, which includes caring for the earth and to the world around us—this could be our work places or our neighbors (p.147). Thus, these all can be summed up in the application of the greatest commandment—love God and love others!