How Can I Be Whole?: What It Means to Have Integrity
September 26, 2011 3 Comments
Integrity. We throw that word around more than Tony Romo throws a football.
“We have to protect the integrity of the investigation.”
“I am really doing this album for my artistic integrity.”
“The integrity of our military defenses has been compromised.”
“Our professional values are transparency, honesty, and integrity.”
The Oscars recently banned voters from attending parties thrown by film companies after the release of the nominees. Why? To protect, “the integrity of the awards process,” says Academy President, Tom Sherak.
We use this word about institutions, investigations, individuals, and inanimate objects. I often wonder if it has much meaning when we say it anymore. I mean, when you ask someone for their definition of integrity, what do you normally hear? Your respondent might get a sassy glimmer in his eye and respond coyly, “If you were sitting at a red light in a deserted street in the middle of the night, would you run it?” I think the most common (and least creative) response would be something like, “Doing the right thing when nobody’s watching,” or, “Staying true to your values.” But are these really adequate definitions? If you want to be a person of integrity, will abiding by these aphorisms get you there?
An older generation would have understood integrity as morality. If you are a “good” person, if you live by an acceptable moral code, if you do the right thing, you have integrity. Essentially, it boiled down to not lying, stealing, sleeping around, smoking, or drinking. Who cares about your values, your longings, or your predispositions? Toe the line.
Our culture has, in part rightfully, rejected this understanding of integrity wholesale.
The word ‘integrity” actually comes from the Latin word integer, meaning “whole or complete.” In our culture, we often consider ourselves “whole” when we own our past, our personality, and our potential. When we truly love ourselves for who we are and express that in outward action; when our outsides match our insides. A book on business leadership by Daniel Goleman (et al) puts it like this:
Integrity, therefore, boils down to one question: Is what you’re doing in keeping with your own values?”
In other words, integrity has come to mean the opposite of hypocrisy.
As far as it goes, not being a hypocrite is a great thing. The problem is, Ke$ha’s “we are who we are” attitude sums up our excuse to be just about anything on the outside as long as it resembles who we are on the inside. It’s like a kid I knew growing up who’s parents’ child-rearing philosophy was, “Let them act how they like, because we don’t want to impugn their integrity by forcing outside values on them.” Hmmm…. As you might imagine, my adolescent acquaintance got into a bit of trouble.
Oh well, that’s just who he is. At least he has his integrity.
This view has the benefit of your actions matching your values, your personality, you predispositions. You aren’t fake if you have this kind of integrity. The downside is that your values, personality, and predispositions can be irresponsible, destructive, even hateful — and you can still have integrity.
Believe it or not, Christianity actually gives us a third option. Integrity, being a whole or complete person, is not simply lack of hypocrisy. However, neither is it religiously acceptable actions stemming from a morally decrepit heart. Christianity says that living in obedience to God’s Word is integrity. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says:
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
The interesting thing about this passage is that in the original language, it reads a little differently. Literally, it says, “Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole person.” The ‘duty’ is supplied by translators.
But how is that different from the hypocritical, moralistic coercion we ruled out earlier? God’s commands, as distinct from society’s moralisms, go to the core of who we are as humans. When we live according to them, not out of hypocritical concern for image but truly from the heart, we flourish as we have never dreamed possible. We are creatures created by the Creator, and when we act like it we find ourselves whole and complete in our character, our dispositions, and our relationships.
The only problem is that we can’t be the stable source of our own integrity.
Something in us has gone wrong. There are parts of us that are “out of order.” If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we don’t live up to this high standard of integrity. We don’t always want to do what God says, so we end up doing it begrudgingly — hypocritically. Even in our better moments when we do, deep down, want to follow God’s instructions for the beautiful life, we find ourselves doing the opposite. Sometimes our insides and outsides are in full rebel swing against what we perceive to be God’s ‘authoritarian rules’. The bottom line is we can’t, with integrity by anyone’s standards, live into our identity as created beings in a loving and submissive relationship with our Creator.
But I have good news…someone did live that kind of life. Jesus Christ was the first and only “whole person” the world has ever known. He lived into God’s laws with a freedom that has literally changed the world. He outsides always matched his insides, and both were always good.
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. (Rom 8:3)
God gives us the opportunity to take Christ’s credit history as our own. Jesus was willing to take our shattered, fragmented identities on himself and give us his obedience, his wholeness — his integrity.
If you want a stable source of integrity, if you want to be someone who is in a right relationship with the God of the Universe, if you long for an inexhaustible motivation for living a life of God-obeying flourishing, then turn to Jesus and find yourself–a person who is “whole.”