Professor Emeritus, Poultry Science Department
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Webster’s Spiritual Journey – Coming from a family that was not socially outgoing and having suffered asthma while growing up, I was never a member of the popular group. I discovered, however, that I could excel in academics and so devoted myself to the one area in life I seemed to be good at. After high school, I studied biology at McGill University in Canada and graduated with first-class honors in ethology, the study of animal behavior. There were numerous times during my education when I had opportunity to consider the meaning of life. Many of my undergraduate courses dealt with the concept of evolution and the attempts of scientists to explain the origin and development of life from what has been observed in the biological world. At the time, however, I was not ready to seriously consider the meaning of my life, personally. My goal was to succeed academically, from which I believed the blessings of life would follow. Not even a brush with death from a severe asthma attack one summer during my undergraduate years was enough to make me search for meaning. The prospect of death terrified me as I was rushed to the hospital struggling to breathe, but when I recovered I went on with life as before. I knew in the back of my mind that I needed to answer the question, “What would become of me in eternity?”, but instead, I just studied hard.
I began graduate school at the University of Guelph in Canada as an introverted, socially-awkward, academic elitist. I loved the comfort that solitude in the outdoors gave my introverted personality and so started a program in the Department of Zoology conducting radiotelemetry studies of wild animals in their natural habitat. As most graduate students, I found myself working long hours day after day. While in the midst of realizing my dream of academic success, it hit me that the unremitting cycle of hard work and sleep would be my lot to the end of my days. I found myself having to ask what it was all for. Having no answer, I began to know despair.
Around this time I got to know some students who were followers of Jesus who tried to explain their faith to me. At first I was dismissive of their attempts to get me to consider Jesus Christ, but deep down, I knew that my time to deal with the meaning of life had come. Inchoately, I understood that without God, life has no meaning, so the questions facing me were: “Is there a God?”, and if so,” What is God like?”
Over a couple of months, I read most of the New Testament of the Bible and discovered claims that there is just one God, Creator of all things, that Jesus, his only son, was born into the world as a human to live among us, and that Jesus lived his life in perfect obedience to God. I also learned that according to the Bible all people have turned away from God and disobeyed him (what the Bible calls sin). As a result, God, being holy (i.e., morally and spiritually perfect), can allow no one into his presence based on personal merit. It does not matter how “good” a person is relative to anyone else; no one is good enough. I found this problematic. How was I to know if God exists if I had no ability to discover God on my own? However, the Bible also asserted that God deeply loves people and made a way to resolve our impasse and be restored to him. Jesus Christ sacrificed himself in atonement for our sin. Whoever believes in Jesus will be brought by him into God’s presence (John 1:12; 3:16-17; 14:2-3).
This was more than I could swallow. I still had to be convinced of the existence of God. As I continued to read, the Bible made clear that God reveals himself only on his own terms. His terms were that I must truly believe in Jesus; nothing else would do (John 14:6). Only then would Jesus come into my life and reveal God to me. This left me with a couple of problems. First, I had to speak to a being I was not convinced existed. I had not tried to pray since childhood and the thought of talking to the air made me doubt my sanity. Secondly, I had to be prepared to give up all my personal desires and priorities and commit my life to Jesus. I balked at these notions for a while, but I was at a personal dead end. Eventually, with trepidation, I admitted to myself that I would be willing to accept God and Jesus if they were as described in the Bible. Such was my aversion to the possibility of a pointless appeal to the air that it took me three evenings to actually speak out loud in an attempt at prayer that I wanted to know God and to receive Jesus.
The next six months were a psychological and emotional roller-coaster for me. One day I would get the sense that God was in my life, the next I would suspect I was delusional. The only constant was that my life was no longer the same. Since I lived three miles from the building where I pursued my graduate studies, I had a lot of time to think while walking to work. One day on my way home, I got the impression that God was speaking to me quietly in my mind. Three times I heard, “Bruce, give in.” I realized the last obstacle between me and the Lord. I had not surrendered my life to God. I gave in and at the age of 23, in the spring semester of 1977, I became a follower of Jesus Christ.
I immediately began to be transformed. Hope and purpose were restored to my life. Jesus made himself known to me and brought me into God’s personal presence. I began to claim God’s promises in the Bible and discovered his faithfulness. Since I was no longer my own, the pressure of finding meaning for my life out of my own efforts was removed. I learned that through Jesus, God had a higher purpose for my life, which was ultimately to be in fellowship with him in heaven, but also included my time remaining in this world. Somehow, I would be able to join in this higher purpose through my life as a graduate student and thereafter.
My view of people began to change. I started to see the inner beauty and elements of godliness people possess, despite their many imperfections. I became sensitive to my own imperfect character, and realized my need for God’s help to make me a better person. As I struggled with my character deficiencies, I came to understand that I had no basis for elitism. I was no different from anyone else. In fact, many whom I had viewed as uneducated or having disordered lives had skills and qualities of character that surpassed my own. My introversion decreased as I realized I had common cause with others in my human weaknesses and I found myself becoming more accepting of other people as they were. Most profoundly, I discovered that I had been adopted into a huge, worldwide family of believers in Jesus Christ, the children of God. I belonged.
For me, there was no turning back. It was clear that being a Christian is not a half-way measure. Jesus requires true followers, not lip-servers. I devoted myself to Bible study with a student Christian group, and joined efforts to reach out to other students to invite them to seek life in Jesus. After a year or so, in something of an epiphany, it occurred to me that I should start going to church. In church I met mature believers who lived with such grace and wisdom that I was taken aback, challenged, and yet comforted at the same time. They gave me a glimpse of heaven.
It would be too much for me to try to describe my life in Jesus in the many years since my conversion. Looking back over my career as a university professor, I can see how Jesus guided me through times of pressure, weakness, and towering self-doubt. He led me from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7) and ultimately gave me my wife, who is a beautiful follower of Jesus, and children who, themselves, know the Lord. I have been blessed with abundant life as Jesus promised (John 10:10). Moreover, I have had the joy of serving Him in my own small way; not perfectly, but by his grace … and his grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).