May 29, 2003
“Hold Fast Our Integrity: A Joban Task in a Joban
Dr. C. Hassell Bullock (C ’70), Professor of Old Testament
and the Franklin S. Dyrness Professor of Biblical Studies at Wheaton
Thirty-three years ago I walked up to the bema of Plum Street Temple
to receive my degree from Dr. Nelson Glueck. And now returning to
give the commencement address is an unspeakable privilege. The perspective
of thirty-three years has revealed how this great institution has
shaped my life and my career. I am deeply grateful and say thank
you to President Ellenson, Dean Ehrlich, Professor Kamesar, this
esteemed faculty, some of whom were my revered teachers, members
of the Board of Governors, and members of the Board of Overseers.
Today I want to address a topic that has become part of the soul
of our American culture, and so endemic to our self-understanding,
that we could say integrity is defined and explicated as the American
value. That is, it is joined inextricably to our American ideas
of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To understand American
life—and this is one of the many good things about us—we
have to recognize how this value guides our national and private
Stephen Carter, in his book (Integrity) , defines this American
value as having three parts: 1) discerning what is right and what
is wrong; 2) acting on what you have discerned; and 3) saying openly
that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.
This definition, quite unintended, of course, applies quite well
to the book of Job. In fact, the long and rich Judeo-Christian tradition
that undergirds our culture has left its indelible mark on this
American asset, and, if we are honest with ourselves about its origins,
we will need to pay homage to this tradition.
While I don’t intend to fill in the details of what we call
integrity—that would take more time than I am allotted, and
perhaps also split us into several opinion groups—I want to
speak about the shape of this value, a matter on which we can more
I suggest that we find the classic statement on the shape of integrity
in the book of Job. In fact, the two crucial ingredients in the
thought of the book are, one, Job’s integrity (expressed most
often in the dialogue by his undeterred belief in his innocence),
and, two, the view of divine omnipotence. If either of these ideas
were extracted, the argument of the book would implode.
The first observation gleaned from Job is that integrity is at
ground zero a private matter, not private in the sense that it is
a closet-type issue, self-contained, incapable of spilling over
into other relationships, but in the sense that it is the cohering
force of Job’s being. When the Almighty singled Job out, it
was because he was a “blameless (Heb., tam) and upright man,
who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). And when
the Adversary makes his second frontal assault, God reminds him
that Job “still holds fast his integrity” (Heb., tumato)
[Job 2:3]. The point is that Job exhibits a consistent moral conduct,
based upon moral principles to which he adheres and to which he
bears testimony, both in the prologue and the dialogue. The Adversary
thought there had to be a chink in Job’s armor somewhere.
The Hebrew word tumah (“integrity”) has the meaning
of completeness, wholeness, or consistency. Therefore, we may speak
of integrity as wholeness or consistency of character. In fact,
the issue of integrity of character is at the heart of the book.
This is illustrated by the Adversary’s allegation to God against
Job: “The Adversary answered the LORD, ‘Does Job not
have good reason to fear God?’” (Job. 1:9, JPS) That
is to say, is there not some ulterior motive that drives this man’s
religious devotion? The dialogue, despite its disconnect with the
prologue, turns the various facets of Job’s character to the
scrutiny of the reader: physically, he scrapes his sores and bears
excruciating pain; psychologically, he sinks into post-traumatic
stress and wishes to die; sociologically, he is disdained by those
who formerly admired him; and theologically, his relationship to
the Creator of the universe is confused--all of this, while his
friends try to filibuster him into lining up with their own position.
Yet he maintains his wholeness of character without breaking apart,
even though there are hairline fractures in the portrait the dialogue
paints of him. In his closing monologue he writes an affidavit of
his confidence when he exclaims: “Let him [God] weigh me in
a just balance, and let God know my integrity!” (Job 31:6).
While the book focuses on a single individual and his integrity,
the classical nature of the book turns the spotlight on us as religious
professionals. Job’s maintenance of his integrity, so hardnosed
and unrelenting, highlights a model for the academic world and the
community of faith. Admittedly, it brought Job into conflict with
his peers and into tension with the Deity, but it guided him through
the labyrinthine ways of his life. Even in the hyperbole of his
suffering, Job’s integrity was his reference point.
Colleagues, students, and congregants have every right to demand
of us a consistency of character. The people whom we serve want
to know that our life and actions are governed by principles that
connect our private and public personae. A few years ago a prominent
member of the House of Representatives pled guilty to fraud, and
then walked out to speak into the public microphones, and denied
that he had done anything wrong. There was a disconnect there somewhere.
When Job held fast to his integrity, he had a reference point that
gave perspective to his world, a perspective without which he could
not have faced the tensions and conflict of his life.
The second observation is that private integrity is the brick and
mortar out of which a public integrity is built. It would probably
overstretch the point to suggest that the book of Job reveals a
public integrity, anything of the sort that we see in our American
society; but that there is a more public understanding of integrity
in Job, that is, an underlying moral foundation for human actions,
is quite obvious. Eliphaz, for example, begins the dialogue quite
gently by drawing from this public sense of moral consistency, suggesting
that suffering always has a cause:
Think now, what innocent man ever perished? Where have the upright
been destroyed? (Job 4:7)
And by the time Eliphaz gives his third and last speech, he has
convinced himself that Job had sinned severely, and Eliphaz even
enumerated the sins that he had only imagined of Job in his opening
speech (Job 22). In Job’s closing monologue, the so-called
“Confession of Integrity” (ch. 31), he swears through
a list of fourteen behaviors he has shunned. This list of oaths,
not one, but fourteen, is intended to establish his personal integrity.
And these behaviors are social in nature, suggesting that Job’s
personal and public personae were linked, were the same piece of
cloth, were consistent.
In a world of Enron’s and Worldcom’s and sexual scandals,
the public outcry against them rises from the ground of our corporate
integrity. The integrity of a nation is an entity in itself and
it is more than the sum of its parts. Yet, it is individuals, like
you honored graduates, and those of us who celebrate with you, who
make up the whole and assure that it works. When we think of persons
of integrity in American politics who have walked across the pages
of our history, Abraham Lincoln stands out to most of us. His famous
three-minute speech at Gettysburg is a good example of how one man’s
personal integrity contributed to and helped to protect the American
sense of corporate integrity. He came to Gettysburg on Nov. 19,
1863, to honor the men who died there. The nation was crying out
for peace. Lincoln knew the country could have peace anytime it
wanted it, but at what a price! The Union would go, and the abolition
of slavery would go. The president called on the nation to “highly
resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this
nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . .”
His political enemies—and he had many, and a tired and grieving
nation, could not dissuade him from his course of action, for which
we can be grateful.
Holding fast to our integrity is more a journey than a destination.
Job presents us with a noble example of one who took that journey,
and perhaps the Almighty’s declaration to Eliphaz in the epilogue
was more about the journey than the destination: “you have
not spoken the truth about Me as did My servant Job” (42:7).
I cannot say to you graduates, “Welcome to the journey,”
because you are already on it; but I can say “Godspeed”
as you travel.