“The merchant of death is dead”, read the French newspaper in the Spring of 1888. Shocked and horrified, Alfred Nobel sat, reading his own obituary. The paper described him as the man who made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who ever lived. Alfred was devastated by how the world viewed him.
His brother, Ludvig Nobel, had passed away and the global media incorrectly printed that Alfred Nobel had died. In our day, the name Nobel is associated with the world’s most famous and prestigious awards, the Nobel Peace Prize. However, in the mid to late 1800’s the name meant the complete opposite.
Alfred Nobel came from a family of engineers. Born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 21, 1833, he was a descendant of Olof Rudbeck, the best known technical genius of the 17th century in Sweden. Alfred himself was a brilliant man. He was fluent in many languages. As an inventor, he held patents on 355 inventions. He loved literature, and wrote a great deal of poetry and drama. As a business man, he created multiple corporations that amassed a fortune for the Nobel name. He established businesses and factories in Sweden, Germany, France, the United States and the United Kingdom. Yet it was his skill as a chemist that history has marked him. He is the inventor of dynamite, and for this, history nearly condemned him.
By inventing dynamite, he had single handedly changed the nature of war. Countries around the world sought his products of death and he was more than glad to sell it to them.
Why would a Pastor write an article about a man who manufactured dynamite? What does this have to do with a Christian newspaper? Did Nobel turn to Christ later in life? No, there is no evidence of this. Did he give his fortune to advance the Gospel and further the cause of global missions on the earth? No, he gave his fortune for the Nobel Peace Prize. So why should Christians ponder his life?
Because he had an opportunity that nearly all of us will never have. Even though it was seemingly by chance, he read his own obituary. Nobel saw the way the world would remember him. He had a rare glimpse of the legacy he was leaving. More importantly, he had the opportunity to change his legacy, his life and his priorities.
In reality, you and I have the same opportunity. In his classic leadership book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says in Habit #2, that successful people begin with the end in mind. They strategically think through the process of what they are doing to know what they want the end result to be. I think the Bible would agree with, as well as encourage, this kind of thinking. Alfred Nobel is a great example of someone who re-evaluated his life, re-examined his priorities and re-established his legacy to the world.
So how does a Christian view his life with the end in mind? I think James 4:14 explains how. It says, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
Do you understand life doesn’t last long? If you realize this, let me challenge you with a question I have asked myself and my congregation. Does our time on earth matter to God? Doesn’t the Bible teach in 2 Peter 3:8 that 1 day is as 1,000 years to the Lord and 1,000 years as 1 day? Does this verse indicate that time isn’t important? I don’t think so. Rather it says that you and I live on the wrong side of time. From God’s view, He sees all things from beginning to end and even declares events from the end to the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). God is outside of time.
God’s view is an eternal one. You and I will share that view one day. But for now, we are limited by time. We are bound in 24 hour days, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Do you think that matters to God? I think it does. If time wasn’t important then why wouldn’t God bring us into eternity? What is so special about the days you and I have on this earth?
Here is why I feel the answer to that question is crucial. If we don’t value the days we have, we will waste them. That’s why David prayerfully asked the Lord, “Teach me to number my days” in Psalms 90:12…because time matters!
It humbles me when I think how God has given me the same amount of time in a day as He has the most powerful and important people in the world. I have 24hrs a day, so do you, what will we do with it? Why do my next 24hrs matter to God? Because that is precious time, time that for a moment, is touching eternity and I have the opportunity to impact eternity. How will I glorify God? What will I do to invest in the only valuable thing on this earth…people? Who will I love? Who will I care for? Who will I share the Gospel with? Those are life altering, eternity impacting questions. That’s numbering my days!
So how does Alfred’s story end? In 1876, he met the Austrian Countess Bertha von Suttner. She was the driving force of the international peace movement in Europe in the latter part of the 19th century. Although it took many years to change his perception, she apparently had a great deal of influence on Alfred’s thinking of warfare. In his correspondence with the countess, he shares his thoughts on war by saying, “Perhaps my factories will put an end to war sooner than your congresses: on the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops.”
Obviously Alfred did not live to see WW1 or WW2. In 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. In a speech given after the world altering events, Albert Einstein referenced Nobel’s work with explosives, saying, “Alfred Nobel invented an explosive more powerful than any then known – an exceedingly effective means of destruction. To atone for this ‘accomplishment’ and to relieve his conscience, he instituted his award for the promotion of peace.”
Alfred did not change his views overnight. The last decade of his life was spent engaged in the inventions of rockets, cannons and progressive powders. He developed Ballastite, a smokeless powder that was offered to France, but later purchased by Italy.
It took reading his own obituary, in which he was labeled, the merchant of death, to change Alfred’s heart and open his eyes. He decided to recreate his last will and testament. In the re-structuring of his will, he gave 94% of his wealth (a sum of 186 million dollars in today’s currency) to a global set of prizes called the “Nobel Peace Prize.” He states that the prizes are to be awarded to those who “greatest benefit mankind.” He signed the will in Paris, France on November 27, 1895, just one year before he would die.
How will you be remembered? It will be determined by how you live. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
To learn more about Pastor Chad Roberts, visit www.preachingchristchurch.com
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