Creator of Nobel Peace Prize First Accused of Being ‘Merchant of Death’

It’s true. Alfred Nobel, the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize was once called the ‘Merchant of Death’. 

That doesn’t sound right, huh? 

It’s quite an interesting story that I ran across earlier this week while preparing a talk for my friends at Quad City Christian School. 

Before he was ever the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and inventor, holding 355 patents. Most widely known, is his invention of dynamite. 

The story goes that Alfred’s brother, Ludvig had died. A few weeks later, while visiting France, Alfred opened up the newspaper and found his OWN obituary printed as a mistake—not his brother Ludvig’s. Intrigued by what might be said regarding his own life, Alfred read:

Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Alfred was horrified that the way he would be remembered is as a “merchant of death”. He devised a plan to remedy this—Alfred took 94% (at the time, this was a little over 3 million Swedish Kronor!) of his wealth and created a fund that would annually award those who helped create or keep peace-without regard to nationality. 

Alfred is reputed to have said, “If only every person had the chance to change their obituary in the middle of their life!”

As I learned of Alfred’s story, his labeling as the ‘merchant of death’ and his subsequent action to, as he put it, “change his obituary” it got me to thinking about what my obituary might say were it to be printed pre-mortem. 

I think we all believe that when we die, someone will miss us. Hopefully a handful of someones! They’ll place us on a pedestal, they’ll only remember the good, the times we shone, the highlights. 

Honestly though, the reality is that I have my moments. I can be quite annoying at times. Forgetful. Too busy. Too guarded. Too self-focused. I miss my exit too often, not knowing when to stop. The gift that gives me a quick-wit also gives me a swift and sarcastic tongue that bites. I may not have invented dynamite, but I know that I have killed a few people’s spirits throughout my time on this earth. (On the plus side, I have learned how to apologize really well!) 

What might I need to change in order to leave a better legacy? 

If the entirety of my life will be boiled down to one sentence, amongst my friends and colleagues, etched on my tombstone in the cemetery where I’m buried, what would I want that one sentence to be?

I am unable to put together that one sentence at this moment. However, it has got me thinking of what direction I’d like to head. Afterall, Alfred Nobel’s life has taught me that it’s never too late to change your obituary while you’re still living! 

Anointed By Bob

I’ve been anointed three times in my life. 

In 2010, I was beginning a new college and young singles ministry at the church I attended and the leadership asked me to come in the evening of our kick-off to hear my heart and pray over me. As they prayed, I felt a hand lightly tousle my hair, anointing me with oil. I looked up and it was a man named Bob. As he prayed, it was as if he was talking to an old friend of his that had just joined us. We had never had a college ministry before and I wasn’t completely sure that I was the right person to be at the helm, but after Bob’s prayer that evening, there was no longer any doubt. He asked God to bless me as the leader of the college and young singles ministry. To bring the “missing generation” back to our church family. For God to work mightily through the people who would be impacted by my efforts.

In 2011, I was hired by that same church to be the children’s pastor. Right after I was hired, the elders scheduled my ordination to take place in the upcoming Sunday morning service. I was known in the church, but not as a children’s ministry leader so I had a few minutes to talk about my vision and plans going forward. Afterwards, Bob came up on the stage and again, anointed me with oil. Praying over me as a formal means of ordination. He asked God to bless me as the leader of the children’s ministry. To bring joy, fun, and energy to the youngest generation of our church family. For God to work mightily through the families that would come in contact with the church through our efforts.

Then, in 2017, when I was at one of the lowest points of my life–having left the church I had ministered to for the past six years and not yet knowing where I would land–Bob sent me a message asking me to come see him. Bob was in the hospital; he had been diagnosed with cancer in late 2015. That morning, I had committed to staying in bed all day. But how do you say no to a dying man’s request to come visit him? I got up and headed over. Any good pastor would know that the end of a hospital visit requires a prayer. But before I could offer to pray for him, Bob looked at me and said, “get over here. Let me pray for you.” Everything within me wanted to just burst into tears. How could I let HIM pray over ME in that moment? I briefly argued with him, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He asked for his anointing oil, dipped it on his finger and held my hand. And he asked God to bless me. To bring me new opportunities, new ministry, and a deeper trust that God wasn’t finished using me. For God to work mightily through the work that He had begun in me.

A week later on March 10th, I got word that Bob had died. I couldn’t believe it. And the blessing of being anointed by him hung over me with a special honor. I was the last person he anointed before he passed. Bob’s celebration of life was packed and every single person mentioned Bob’s acute ability to connect with God through prayer in order to bless and anoint others around him. 

From my first moments in ministry, Bob’s support meant the world to me. He was in his 70’s and he understood the necessity to have children as a part of the church family. My first VBS, I “voluntold” Bob to lead the 5th grade boys group (one of the hardest groups of any VBS or children’s ministry activity). He had those boys following his every word. It was incredible! Later on, I found out he was paying them dollars to behave and listen to him the whole week. 

When the city of Franklin wanted to ban pan-handlers from standing on street corners, Bob went (without telling anyone) to the city council meeting to defend the homeless in the area who didn’t have a means to make money any other way. He went on numerous international mission trips (in addition to all the ministry he did locally). His age meant nothing in terms of slowing down or “retiring”. Retirement to him only meant that he had even more time to serve and bless others.

Bob believed in the power of God at work in children. During the last year of his battle with cancer, the kids in the ministry made cards for him. We brought him down to kids church twice and the kids anointed him with oil and prayed over him. Never missing a beat, he would thank them for their cards and teach them about the power of prayer. At my last VBS, we had a child with special needs named Silas. Bob signed up to be Silas’ buddy the entire week. This was a picture captured from the week—

Bob was the person I called when I was upset with a leadership decision. He’d help talk me off the edge or agree to represent me well or both. He encouraged me. He saw and appreciated the growth in me as a leader, minister, and a regular person. Every prayer of Bob’s began with “Hallelujah Lord Jesus, we do, we thank you…..” 

Bob loved his family, fishing, serving, working with his hands, reading his Bible, and of course eating at Uncle Bud’s catfish. 

Every March 10th, I am reminded of a life well lived, a race well run, and a legacy left behind. I pray that I can be a “Bob” to those who are around me. I think I’m going to order me one of those keychain anointing oil holders like Bob had. That way, I don’t miss an opportunity to bless someone like Bob did for me.