[dropcap3]V[/dropcap3]irtue matters. When we think about the people who have made the most significant and positive influences upon our own lives, I doubt any of us would find those people lacking in character. And when we think of those examples who made lasting positive contributions in the church, society, and the world we often see a strength of character underlying their talent, heroics, and accomplishments. Character, or virtue, is important. It matters. But the matter of virtue is also an interesting study. What is it made of? Where does it come from? How is it shaped? This is the theme of my chapel series here at PBU this year. It is also the theme we have been teasing out in this year’s series of PBU Today issues. We are doing this because it is something we take seriously as part of our mission, something we believe is essential to a quality higher education, and something that is profoundly spiritual as an institution committed to the centrality of Christ and His Word. We want to hold before our students the examples of virtue, teach them the importance of pursuing it, and remind them of the source of it as we call them to live their lives well and with purpose.
Recently I read Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken. It is the story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose athletic career was interrupted by World War II. But it is far more than a biography of a historical figure. It is a story of heroic perseverance, sovereign grace, and ultimately, forgiveness. Zamperini’s bomber crashed into the Pacific while on a rescue mission and what followed after that accident in which his life was spared is nothing short of unbelievable. Forty-seven days lost at sea fending off sharks, dehydration, starvation, and despair were ended when Zamperini was captured and sent to prison camp where he endured more than two years of torture and abuse. That Zamperini survived is incredible. He was targeted by an abusive guard who took delight in beating him, humiliating him, and taking him to the brink of death. This once vibrant and robust athlete with a mischievous streak equaled only by a strong will sometimes seen as defiance, was reduced to a shell of a man who was simply trying to survive the war. If you have not read this book, you might want to consider doing so.
But as you come to the close of the book, you see the toll such hardship took on the man. Liberation and a hero’s homecoming could not chase from his mind the horrors of the years spent lost and suffering. Hatred and vengeance welled up in him and eroded his humanity, turning him into a hard twist of a man, nearly costing him his marriage, family, and his life. He had survived the war but was dead in so many ways. “But God…” – these words of Ephesians chapter two verse four are testified to in this biography. Zamperini attended a Billy Graham crusade at the urging of his wife. The love and grace and forgiveness that are found in Jesus Christ washed over this man who was unbroken by his enemies yet broken by sin. Zamperini was transformed. He started Victory Boys Camp, traveled with Graham, and lived life exuberantly with a peace and joy that only comes from forgiveness. In fact, Zamperini forgave his captors and torturers in a genuine way that left many of his friends confounded. As I read the concluding chapter of the book I was struck by the eternal truth that the one who is forgiven much, loves much. Zamperini was a new man and could no longer live as he did before. The strength of character he showed in enduring unparalleled hardship, the grace and compassion he showed to his fellow prisoners, the iron-willed determination that he found deep within himself to stand up every day when it would have been easier to die were all overshadowed by the virtues of love and forgiveness that marked his days after trusting Christ. He looked back and saw the hand of God on his life, how he had been spared, how he had been shaped by his experiences, but he recognized that forgiveness is a virtue that has the power to transform lives.
We center our work here on Christ and the Word because we know that the intellectual, social, cultural, and vocational pursuits that are part of university life have little impact if they are not understood in light of God’s grace, truth, and glory. I trust this issue of PBU Today will be a blessing as we remember talent, testify to transformational forgiveness, and look to the future work of this institution.
Todd J. Williams, Ph.D., has been the President of Cairn University since January 2008. He served as faculty and an administrator from 1996 to 2001, and then returned as Provost in 2005. He can be reached by emailing email@example.com. Also, interact with Dr. Williams at Cairn’s blogsite: blogs.cairn.edu.