A Heritage of Honesty


About a century ago a husky young man working in a stone quarry was wrestling with an enormous boulder when it suddenly skidded toward him and pinned his foot. The man's scarlet face muffled moans of anguish as he tried to move the monstrous rock that was crushing the bones in his foot. "God, help me!" he gasped. Then, with enormous exertion, the man was able to move the boulder just enough to set his foot free.

He took a step, but his foot seemed to explode with pain which shrieked up his leg. He was afraid to cry out for help because he feared being sent home. Ragged-poor, he had children in diapers and a pregnant wife. He couldn't afford a horse, so he had to walk everywhere. He desperately needed his job.

A few days later, on payday, he limped to the general store for some groceries. He hobbled home and collapsed on his bed, his foot throbbing with pain. When he pulled from his pocket the receipt and the change from the store, he discovered that he had been given too much change.

"Oh, no! Not today of all days." he anguished. "What should I do?"

But he realized that the clerk who had handed him the extra change might be fired if the money was missing from the cash box.

The man decided that he must return the extra change that evening. His worried wife watched from the kitchen doorway as he began limping every searing step back toward the store.

I related this incident to my sons during a camping trip while attempting to make a point about honesty. I searched their faces in the dim, flickering light of our campfire and asked, "What do you think, guys? Did he do the right thing? Was that trip necessary?"

My 20th century youths quickly offered several alternatives, all of which seemed to them to make more sense. "Phone the store. Drop the change off tomorrow. Drop it in the mail."

"But remember, boys," I said, "there weren't any telephones, radios, autos, trucks, buses and, for this man, not even a horse."

After reconsidering and finally believing the unbelievable absence of modern conveniences, my space-age camping crew became more benevolent. Roger said, "He did the right thing. I'm proud of him."

Then my boys launched into a spirited discussion of whose turn it was to sleep in which bunk in our camping trailer, while I stared at the campfire and mentally wandered off.

Not everyone would choose to be as honest as the stone quarry worker. I remembered an incident in Columbus, Ohio, in which almost 2 million dollars tumbled out of an armored car and blew all over the road. Dozens of motorists stopped to pick up the cash, and most kept it. One man yelled, "It's money! It's ours, it's ours! Grab some while you can." Less than $400,000 of the 2 million was returned.

The American Management Association reports that one in four workers admits to stealing on the job. Industry says that it loses more than 3 million dollars a day because of employees who steal merchandise, take kickbacks or steal company time.

We read in Acts 4:32-5:11 of an assembly of people who gathered their assets and possessions together to help the poor among them. Many sold their property and turned in the money. One couple decided to sell their property too, but to turn in only some of the money and keep the rest. For the sake of public recognition, they agreed to say that they had given all of it. God watched their manipulation, and He didn't leave any doubt about how He felt about their lying. He saw their deceit and after their deceptive words passed their lips, they were both instantly felled like trees. Perhaps the stone quarry worker had read the episode in Acts and learned well just how seriously God views integrity.

But there is more to honesty than being ethical in matters of money. For instance, while I would never think of robbing someone of his money, why am I sometimes so careless about robbing him of his most valuable possession--his reputation--by repeating a rumor?

How can I be so concerned about abortions but spend so little energy on solving the causes of unwanted pregnancy in our society?

And why do I ask people how they are when, at that moment, I may be so filled with my own concerns that I don't really care how they are or want to hear of their troubles? Then, when they ask me how I am, I respond, "I'm great," when I'm carrying a ball of fire inside.

What about my tendency to seem to agree with things that I don't really agree with for the sake of temporary peace? Why am I so tempted to agree with the person I'm with, while later, with someone else, I put a different spin on the same subject?

Some say that God is dead, but why do I say that God is alive but act as if He is blind? Sometimes, when I'm in a hurry, I drive with my eyes on the rearview mirror as though the police are to be feared, but God can't see me?

Why am I so generous about buying dinner for anyone I'm with, but so careless about providing food for those who are out of sight and have little to eat?

Why am I so calculating about my tithes and gifts to God but so lavish about things for me?

How can I be so concerned about how many minutes our pastor preaches on Sunday morning, especially after the gong of noon, but be so careless about how many hours I watch television?

As I sat by the campfire staring at the golden-orange logs, I thought, "I grapple with so many of these dilemmas. How do I translate these real-life encounters to my sons sitting here in front of me?"

With a heavy day of camping pushing down on their eyelids, my boys were sagging, and I knew that the time had come to make my final charge into the lesson on honesty. So I advance with, "Can you imagine what our world would be like if everyone were totally honest? What about locks? Banks? Fences? Gates? Insurance? Police? Jails?"

I paused, and then continued: "The young father who worked in the stone quarry never became rich, but he lived a long, happy and honorable life. Before he died, he had passed his values in honesty to his children and his grandchildren. Even his great-grandchildren still hear about his honesty.

Roger asked, "Where did you hear that stone-man story anyway, Dad?"

"When I was just a boy about your age, I heard it from a kind old man sitting in a rocking chair with a cane between his knees. I sat spellbound as he rocked, slowly spinning his cane as he told that story--about himself. He was my grandfather, and your great-grandfather! And you're absolutely right, Roger. You can be very proud of him!"

Later, as the boys lay sleeping, I reflected on my attempt to teach them about honesty. I wondered if I had done my job. Did I say it clearly? Did I use words that they understood? Did I draw on examples that they could relate to--so that my point penetrated deeply?

As I looked at my boys curled up in their well-worn sleeping bags, I thanked God that my grandfather and his son, my dad, were such fine examples of honesty for me to follow. Then it hit me. My words will never teach my sons to be honest. Only my life can do that.