Noblesse Oblige vs. Comparing Oppressions

I feel a lot of guilt for the gifts that I’ve been given in this life.  Family, finances, eye color, love…

Today, I’m daring myself to confront that guilt, and talk a bit about how our mutual guilt might be tempting us to indulge in comparative oppression, whereas Christianity urges instead, noblesse oblige.

Noblesse Oblige:  In French, “noblesse oblige” means literally “nobility obligates.” French speakers transformed the phrase into a noun, which English speakers picked up in the 19th century. Then, as now, “noblesse oblige” referred to the unwritten obligation of people from a noble ancestry to act honorably and generously to others. Later, by extension, it also came to refer to the obligation of anyone who is in a better position than others – due, for example, to high office or celebrity – to act respectably and responsibly. (Merriam Webster online, emphasis mine)

The first sentence of this essay contains a key word to slay my guilt, and that word is, “given”.

In the truest sense of the word, none of us “earn” anything – God gives all.  But in my case, much of what I enjoy has nothing whatsoever to do with me.   I have been blessed.

My reaction has been gratitude, certainly – but not unmixed with a substantial portion of shame.  I know myself undeserving, and because one of my spiritual gifts is Counsel, I hear a lot of horror stories.   Who am I, to be given so much?

I am not alone.   Many of us in the West are extraordinarily blessed, whether or not we look that truth in the face.  It is hard to simply be given things, so a temptation is to reduce the size of the gift by emphasizing the size of the challenges that we have had (or continue to have) to face in our lives.   By becoming oppressed, we transform ourselves into someone deserving of blessing while simultaneously reducing the amount of gratitude we owe our Maker.

And then, because we our oppression, our challenge, is the reason that we are not crushed under the weight of gratitude, we identify ourselves forever with that oppression.   This shackles us to it, never allowing us to overcome our challenges.  It is a terrible state.

Instead, could we not embark on a life of noblesse oblige?

  • *I* know that my family is loving and I have a warm chest to cry on if I need it… so can I not extend an ear to someone who’s had a bad time of it?
  • *I* am not in any need, so is there really a reason to withhold forgiveness from the person who stole (yet another) solar light from my front yard?
  • *My* days are generally fairly pleasant, can I not extend grace to someone who is rude to me?

I can never pay back the amount of blessing that I have received, but can I not look eagerly for opportunities to bless others?  Can I not steward my time, energy, and finances to make the lives of those around me a bit better?  Can I not make choices that benefit not just me and mine, but those around me?  People I don’t know?

That is step one, and it’s hard enough.

1 Timothy 6: 17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

The second step, humble acceptance, is harder.  I’ll not try to pretend that I’ve achieved this, but I’m confronting it, because not stepping up is getting in the way of God’s call for my life.

The second step is saying goodbye to the guilt, forever.  It is the sweet acceptance of a child.   It is a simple “Thank You” to God, and a decision to become the vessel to show forth His kindness, goodness, and grace.

I don’t deserve my life, and making God smaller, my problems bigger, or pressing my face into the dirt won’t change that.   Thanking God, wearing the gifts that He has given me and sharing them as I am able is what He has instructed me to do.  That road, however contradictory it might seem, is the path of humility, for it is but dust we are – whatever else you see is all the hand of God.

1 thought on “Noblesse Oblige vs. Comparing Oppressions

  1. ballista74

    Simply put, the simplest thing that is done to deceive us in life is to get us to focus on the things we don’t have instead of the things we do have. Then, if that doesn’t work guilt for having it better. Even worse, people embrace their perceived shortcomings as “wrongs” (more so than actual injustices!), others embrace that, and you get a victim culture as a result.

    I know I have my own peripheral issues outside of such things, but one degree that the Spirit has gotten me to is that these days I feel guilty because I’m not able to bless more in the name of God than I have the (small) ability to right now. Of course, that breeds another form of this whole issue.

    But in the end, we are nothing, we deserve nothing, and are even required to be nothing unto death so Christ may live within us. But we are given grace regardless by God according to His choice with the mandate that we show a certain response for that grace. But to not be content and show displeasure of what we do have, especially for our own selfish ends, hits at the very heart of God’s love and is ultimately both a sin against Him and a poor testimony of a life in Him to others.


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