This week I was reminded that I share a very small feature of life with Charles, Prince of Wales. We have lived the same number of years. By almost every other measure I have little in common with his royal highness. The difference is summed up by the rubric of nobility. He’s a nobleman and I’m a common man. My home is merely a house while any home he lives in is called a palace. I’m called on to serve others while he has any number of servants. And so on.
So my question of the day is this: how can I gain nobility? And, so I won’t be seen as selfish, I happily invite others to take up the same ambition.
I’m aware that I probably won’t get there by any genealogical links. Prince Charles is a blueblood and my blood is merely red. Nevertheless my deep ambition still is to be a noble man.
Some readers may already be asking, “As a follower of Christ aren’t you being pretentious in seeking nobility?” Maybe, but maybe not. On the one hand I know that being part of a royal family is a gift of birth that, in God’s wisdom, I seem not to have been given. But what if I dig deep enough to find some intersection with royalty in my heritage? There’s no harm in asking.
I should say what motivated me to chase this topic—apart from the news of Prince Charles’ birthday. Two things came together this week. First I was reading in Isaiah. In chapter 32 the prophet spoke of a coming king who is clearly a very compelling figure. As I read it my ambition to be a noble man surged—to be someone appropriate to his retinue.
Second, I was listening to a radio summary of the current economic crisis the world is facing. “It started in the United States with home loans that were deceptively overvalued,” the speaker said, “and with that came a loss of mutual trust among both the regional and then the national and international banks.” How could this happen? The speaker went on, “In a system that separated the original lenders from the consequences of making bad loans, there was too much room for abuse. Greed took over and here we are today facing a cascade of economic consequences vastly bigger than anyone could have foreseen.”
Wow! A few dishonest realtors, loan brokers, and mortgage companies working together with some slightly dishonest home buyers could have that much impact?! There may have been more, of course. In other reports I’ve heard of other forms of misconduct. Stock market manipulations, for instance. A lack of oversight and limits on various exotic trading instruments that offered no real economic benefit other than to produce enormous profits for the traders. So, too, what the journalists label “excessive and unwarranted” salaries and bonuses paid to officers of financial companies. It was enough to make me wonder if the movie Wall Street that tried to overstate and mock the limitless greed of the protagonist has some basis in life!
But, I’m told, there will always be a few bad apples in any crate of good fruit—so let’s not worry about just a little bit of corruption. If someone is clever enough to pull it off, does it really make a difference to anyone else?
That’s not to say this week’s bad news was devoted solely to economic woes. There were reports of killings among the various drug cartels in certain countries, with police also being killed and other police being implicated as part of the problem. The real issue, we’re told, is that so many billions of dollars are flowing back to the cartel leaders that they have more than enough funds to overturn governments if they need to. But who buys all these drugs? Where are the actual faces, hands, and feet that spend those billions of dollars? Are they my friends and neighbors?
In Isaiah 32 the prophet tells us that “a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice.” In the same context Isaiah also speaks of nobility, but he treats it as a character quality rather than a position in society—although it might apply to both: “The fool will no more be called noble, nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.”
The problem Isaiah addressed was the corruption of both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel—led by Samaria and Jerusalem. These were religious countries, but they rejected the unwanted warnings that God offered them through the prophets.
For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions . . . let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” [30:9-10]
How does this reluctance to listen to God play itself out? In social and economic collapse. Isaiah used the imagery of a landslide that breaks through a high retaining wall. At one moment there seemed to be security and stability for those on the road beneath the wall and in the homes above. The next moment everything breaks loose in catastrophe. Small increments of moral defection and spiritual disaffection culminated in a collective collapse.
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant . . . [30:12-13]
Isaiah was remarkably prescient about today’s economic and spiritual scene, wasn’t he? I know of many who were buying well over their heads in the housing boom before the present debacle. They were certain the market would only go up. Up, up, up. Folly followed.
But how does God view such things? Redemptively.
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” [30:15]
His compassionate character—call it his nobility—is a bedrock we can trust.
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are those who wait for him. [30:18]
Let me return to my ambition to be noble. While I’ve teased the issue by mentioning Prince Charles, I do understand the difference between being a nobleman and being a man who is noble—they may or may not overlap. One is a position in society and the other is position in God. One is an artifice that will pass away the moment any given royal figure breathes his or her last breath. The other is a quality that is only fully displayed when the accolade, “Well done my good and faithful servant” is offered by God—the God who searches our hearts and minds—as we arrive in his presence.
So this calling to nobility—to be noble in a world that is often blind to the intrinsic power of godliness—is not to be pursued for the sake of human acclaim. Rather it is an instinct of heart produced by the paternity of God himself.
Who is this God and king? Isaiah only knew of the coming king in broad terms, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” [9:6] We, by contrast, have met him as Jesus of Nazareth.
But how should we respond to him? By becoming like him. Nobility reveals God on earth—as the body of his Son, the Church. It is measured by more than mere conduct—as in “What would Jesus do?—but more profoundly as a disposition, “What would delight my savior the most?!” Nobility is a deep quality of heart.
So listen, again, to Isaiah [in 32:8] for a final bit of advice in joining the nobility:
But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.
And all God’s people said, “Amen!”