Integrity is to our character what health is to our body, or 20/20 vision is to our eyes. A person of integrity is whole; their life put together. In other words, who that person is when people are watching is the same as who that person is when no one is watching.
A person of integrity is like an oak tree. Strong. Tall. Deeply rooted. Growing upward. Fruitful. And, yes, exposed to life’s storms. In a thunderstorm, which tree is most likely to draw the lightning strike? Lightning, more times than not, strikes the tallest object. Consequently, we can expect that those who stand tallest for God will draw fire.
Daniel is one of those biblical characters we usually associate with just one event. For Daniel, it is the lion’s den. But instead, we need to remember him because of the bottom line message of his life: his integrity. It flowed out of every pore of his being. It was the reason he was thrown into the lion’s den in the first place. The story of Daniel communicates that sometimes life throws us a curve ball when we least expect it. Our integrity will determine how we respond.
“So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den” (Dan. 6:16). Daniel was not in the lions’ den because he had done something wrong but because he had done something right. That’s a little bit confusing, isn’t it? We are under the impression that, when we do what is wrong, we will be punished for it and that, when we do what is right, we will be rewarded for it. That makes good sense, but it isn’t always true. Sometimes, when we do things wrong, we are rewarded for it (as far as this world is concerned), and occasionally, when we do what is right, we pay a terrible price for it.
A few years ago, my friend Bob faced a real dilemma. Bob, part of a management team at work, is responsible for cost and schedule management. “In other words,” he explains, “it’s my job to make sure my company delivers whatever we’re developing to our client on schedule and for the price specified in our contract.” Working with the space-station program, Bob realized a few years into the contract that his company could not deliver on their promise. He went to his superiors.
They told him to massage the figures. “Make it work.”
“But I can’t do that,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“Either do it, or we will find someone else who will do it.”
Bob wrestled with his decision over the weekend. He was in a real lions’-den predicament. What would he do? On Monday, he faced the threat of losing his job because of doing what was right. As a matter of fact, on Monday he was fired.
Daniel was not the last man to suffer for doing what was right. It cost him to keep his integrity intact. Likewise, Bob suffered. And we will suffer. And it will cost us. Count on it. Integrity always draws fire.
One of my favorite movies is To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, an Alabama lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white girl in the early 1930s. Upon taking the case, Finch immediately comes under the abuse and the scorn of the people in the town. The man was innocent, and Atticus Finch capably defended him; but when the jury came in, nobody was surprised that its verdict was guilty.
The lawyer’s two children were at the courthouse. Unable to find seats downstairs, they had gone into the segregated balcony and had sat next to the town’s black preacher. As the judge retired and the spectators filed out of the courtroom, Jean, Atticus’s daughter, was engrossed in watching her father. He stood alone in the room, transferring papers from the table into his briefcase. Then he put on his coat and walked down the middle aisle toward the exit—a beaten man but with soul intact. Jean felt someone touch her shoulder. She turned around and noticed that everyone on the balcony was standing. The black preacher nudged her again and said, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’ by.”
You and Me
One man’s integrity visibly moved those people. Likewise, people may trick us, deceive us, test us, ignore us, and criticize us. But know and understand this: one day they will stand up when we pass by because we faced life’s tests with integrity.