What does it mean to persist in your integrity? Job was a “blameless and upright” man, “one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1-1). Job is put to test, hit by calamities, devastating losses of his children, his live stock, and even ailment touching to the very core of his bone and his flesh. It is written on Job 2:7 that “Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” and the Satan had predicted that Job “will curse [God] to [God’s] face” (Job 2:5, 7). But Job did not. When the sores were inflicted upon his body from head to toe, Job “took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8). Job didn’t do nothing. He took the potsherd, a broken piece of ceramic, he scraped himself to relieve the itching or the pain, and he sat among the ashes. Sitting with the ashes perhaps indicates that he was resigned to his predicament. To death if his fate takes him, he will sit and wait among the ashes. We come from ashes, and to ashes we return. So it is that Job sat with the ashes. But he did not curse God to God’s face.
But Job’s wife had a temperament of a truly night and day difference with Job. She doesn’t try to ease his misery. She seems to speak from a place of her own pain. She can’t help her husband. But she asks, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). It is as if Job’s suffering were too much, not for Job, but for his wife. It is as if she is asking, why do you still persist in your integrity? Why are you keeping your tongue in check? Why are you still blameless and upright? Do you still fear God? God who is not saving you from devastating losses and excruciating pain? Would you still turn away from evil even as you are covered in “loathsome sores” from “the sole of his foot to the crown of his head”?
If we learn from Job’s example, to persist in one’s integrity seems to indicate we act in times of trouble the way we act in times of good times. Yes, we take measures to alleviate the misery. But in suffering, we have the fear of God we had in good times. If you had turned away from evil in good times, you continue to turn away from evil in times of suffering. Full stop. Our posture towards God and our turning away from evil is not conditional upon the context of how we feel, things that happen to us, or to those who surround us. Integrity is character that endures through time, through the good times and the bad times. Those who have integrity tell truth even under circumstances when they might benefit from not telling the truth. Those who have integrity continue to fear God in times of bad as they did during the times of good.
Job answers his wife, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10). If God was worthy of praise in times of receiving the good, then God is also worthy of praise in the times of receiving the bad. That’s what integrity that endures through circumstances requires. If we only praise God when we are receiving the good, we are not praising God. Rather, we are praising the good we are receiving. If we only praise God when we are doing well, the good we receive is the condition on which we praise God. If we praise God conditionally, we would be worshipping the objects of desire, not God who is our creator.
In some ways, we can probably relate to Job more easily as a church and as a nation now than we ever could before. Collectively we are under strain of health concerns, job insecurities, rent instability, and/or possibility of having lost or losing our loved ones. You might know people who died during the pandemic either due to the coronavirus or other causes. I also have lost loved ones, although not due to coronavirus, but still during the pandemic times. When you loose loved ones during the pandemic, does it not seem like a double whammy? If the world were fair, or even merciful, couldn’t we get hit with one misfortune at a time? Either the pandemic or death of a loved one? But the stress of the pandemic and also grieving death(s) of loved ones? It could feel like we have been dealt a horrible hand. A hand of misfortune that might not push you to go “all in” on life, but a hand of misfortunes that might make you lean towards folding your lot, perhaps? If Job was ever a role model for us, he has never been a more relatable role model for us as now. His misfortunes kept coming. His misfortune was not a single event, but series of misfortunes, times of unbearable suffering that tested his integrity. We find when we read the book of Job in its entirety that Job persists in his integrity through it all. Through it all. Could we do likewise? How can we do likewise?
In Gospel of Mark we read that people were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them. The disciples tried to stop this. Jesus replied, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). Why was Jesus welcoming of the little children? How come the kingdom of God belongs to little children? Jesus also goes onto say “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). The quality of little children that seems relevant here to us in relation to persisting in integrity is the trusting nature. Little children trust their parents. Little children are loved and they love their parents. Most kids, under normal circumstances, little children don’t doubt their parents will protect them. They are trusting. And perhaps that is the one thing we can learn from little children about their attitudes toward God. They trust 100% that God loves them, they trust 100% that God cares for them, and they trust 100% that God will protect them. And in their unwavering trusting faith, they relate to God in incredible relationship of trusting faith. Let us be like little children in having trusting faith in God. If we can approach God as we are, as children of God, and have the heart of little children in having absolute trust in the goodness and love of God who is with us, I imagine we will be able to endure hard times persisting in integrity. May God help us to have faith more like little children, receiving the Kingdom of God as a little child so that we may enter it and enjoy God’s loving and gracious presence.
Let us pray: Mighty and powerful God, through Jesus Christ our Savior you come to save people in all times and places, offering new life in your presence. Give us open hearts to receive your Chosen One, that through him we may dwell with you as faithful and committed disciples. Take us in your arms, as you took up the little children, and lay your hands on us, and bless us that we would have trusting faith to persist in integrity. Amen.