Virtues as Gifts of Power by Kim Reisman
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.
Justification and sanctification are two major aspects of God’s grace; however, they’re not the only manifestations of God’s love for us. There is a sense in which the seven cardinal virtues – wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, faith, hope, and love – are expressions of sanctification, God’s gifts of grace to us. As gifts of grace, they are indications of God’s goodness in our lives. Because they’re gifts of grace, they’re also gifts of power. The English word virtue comes from the Greek word arete. Arete literally means power. Therefore, the virtues are evidence of God’s power of goodness at work within us.
By providing us with these gifts of power, God has given us a means to address the conflict we find ourselves in daily. As we explore these virtues over the course of this year, we need to keep the idea of power firmly in our minds. The virtues are not simply moral skills that we attempt to master, they’re a source of power in developing our character because they’re God’s gifts of grace to us. Therefore, as we seek to be the good selves God created us to be, we don’t have to – in fact we can’t – depend on our own resources. Rather, we have the power of God’s grace to create, guide, and strengthen us.
Years ago, Steven Spielberg won an Academy Award for his powerful movie, Schindler’s List, which was based on the story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a German businessman during World War II and as you watch you realize that Schindler is anything but a virtuous person. He was married but kept a German mistress while at the same time having an affair with his Polish secretary. He was a drinker. He initially profited from the German war effort and served as a prison camp director. Despite all that, however, his story is remarkable. Using his position as a German industrialist, and later as the overseer of a prison camp, he was able through shrewd and often underhanded means to save more Jews during any other single person during the war. His story is moving and powerful; yet much of its power comes from the fact that Oskar Schindler was such an ordinary human being. He rose from obscurity before the war and returned to obscurity afterwards. His overall life was not one marked by virtue; yet for a few crucial years, he rose to the challenge before him, acting with courage and wisdom, working for justice, and motivated by love.
The virtue Oskar Schindler exhibited during those difficult years is evidence of the power of God’s grace to act in our lives. Left to our own devices, we continue along a mediocre path. Attuned to the power of God’s grace in our lives, on the other hand, we are provided the means to do great things.