Voices
Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Integrity test

Big opportunities sometimes come with nagging details

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

Aaron Sorkin shared this anecdote in a commencement address at Syracuse University:

"When we were casting my first movie, A Few Good Men, we saw an actor just 10 months removed from the theater training program at UCLA. We liked him very much and we cast him in a small but featured role as an endearingly dim-witted Marine corporal. The actor had been working as a Domino's Pizza delivery boy for 10 months, so the news that he just landed his first professional job ... was met with happiness.

"But as is often the case in show business, success begets success, before you've even done anything, and a week later the actor's agent called. The actor had been offered the lead role in a new, as yet untitled, Milos Forman film. He was beside himself. He felt loyalty to the first offer but Forman was, after all, offering him the lead. We said we understood: No problem, good luck, we'll go with our second choice.

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"Which we did. And two weeks later the Milos Forman film was scrapped. Our second choice, who was also making his professional debut, was an actor named Noah Wyle. Noah would go on to be one of the stars of the television series ER, and hasn't stopped working since. I don't know what the first actor is doing and I can't remember his name. Sometimes when you think you have the ball safely in the end zone, you're back to delivering pizzas for Domino's."

I am not going to take the position as a Christian that the aspiring actor's story isn't tragic because worldly success is unimportant. No, this stinks. Let us not be ambiguous: The kid blew it. And that is the moral Mr. Sorkin is at pains to underline for his starry-eyed 21-year-old audience: "There are some screw-ups headed your way. ... It's a combination of life being unpredictable and you being super dumb."

Every once in a while it is worthwhile to read through Proverbs because it reminds you that success, hard work, and prosperity are good things and not shameful. God has no problem with personal financial wealth, being the One who made Abraham and King David fabulously wealthy (Proverbs 10:4, 22).

The pizza deliverer's story is chilling not because it is unusual but because it is so very usual. How many times have opportunities seemed handed to us from God on a silver platter-but with a teeny little integrity test attached? Ninety percent of the signals for your move are a "go"; there's just this one little nagging detail: I will have to welsh on a commitment.

This is true Christianity when we are not fooling ourselves: going for broke in trusting God and eschewing all rationalizations. It is what David did in the cave in En Gedi when his men told him God had delivered Saul over to him, but David rejected the compelling circumstantial evidence and even a convenient verse in favor of a better word of God-that it was not right to lay a hand on God's anointed (1 Samuel 24).

Integrity of commitment to God is what King Saul did not do on the day he justified self-will and performed animal sacrifice in disobedience to Samuel's express order (1 Samuel 15). Our heart at once breaks and is appalled at the unswerving demands of God.

Paul Miller tells in A Praying Life of the time when he began writing a book but felt God was directing him to take care of certain personal family business first. He set aside his plans in order to do that, and a year later, happy "coincidences" started falling into place-a class on writing that he profited from; a fortuitous connection with a major publisher through a fellow pastor he was ministering to; a friendship with an Oxford-trained writer who agreed to edit his manuscript. The moral of this story: "The integrity of the upright guides them" (Proverbs 11:3).

"O Lord, who shall sojourn in Your tent? Who shall dwell on Your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right. ... Who swears to his own hurt and does not change" (Psalm 15:1-4). And "courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point" (C.S. Lewis).

Email aseupeterson@worldmag.com

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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