Have you ever considered words such as trustworthy and integrity? What exactly do they mean? It occurred to me that I’ve encountered a few people in life who could be trusted to be dishonest, duplicitous, and unethical in almost any setting. In an odd sense that’s a form of trustworthiness. In fact, in a twisted way, they were people who had a lot of integrity, if integrity means being true to who you are. I have not encountered many such persons, but they were persons one could always rely on. It may seem bizarre, but aren’t those the tests, the tests of reliability and authenticity? As was once said about a certain former mayor of Chicago, “He may be a crook but he’s an honest crook.”
Of course we normally take words like trustworthy and integrity to mean honesty, loyalty, transparency, authenticity and the like. In fact, we take it for granted that that is what we mean when we use them. The problem comes when we encounter persons on whom we cannot rely because we don’t know from moment to moment whether they can be trusted to do what they say they will do, or mean what they say they mean. Their integrity is in doubt because so much is hidden from view, or what is displayed for public consumption is nothing more than a parade of changing masks deliberately imitating authentic personalities.
None of us is completely trustworthy, but most of us try to be predictably steadfast in our words and behavior. Each of us sometimes lack integrity as we work a little too hard to be liked, do what we think others expect, or take on personality traits that we think more attractive than the person we believe ourselves to be. “To thine own self be true” (from Hamlet) is often very hard work but it is rewarding work, and I believe that most of us try. But let’s face it, that’s what Paul meant when he observed that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.
What strikes me is that the gospel records of Jesus’ life and teaching display a man of complete integrity and total trustworthiness in every virtuous way. For me, that’s what it means to say that he is without sin. It’s popular to think of Jesus as being in absolute and unwavering harmony with God’s nature and will as if that is our criteria for judging the divinity of Jesus or whether he really is the Christ. That is nothing but arrogant hubris. We can’t start with God and then test Jesus against it. We don’t know what God’s nature and will are. We have to start with Jesus in his human trustworthiness and integrity. That is what leads us to have faith in him as an illumination of God’s character and will on which we can utterly rely. God does not make Christ known to us. Christ makes God known to us, and we can have faith in that because of his integrity and trustworthiness. That is what scripture means by the fullness of God being revealed in Jesus Christ. For us, the imitation of Christ is the work of becoming, and it is always a work of becoming, persons of virtuous trustworthy integrity.