After yesterday’s announcement that Queen Elizabeth II’s doctors were “concerned for Her Majesty’s health,” crowds gathered near Buckingham Palace. Then, shortly before her death was announced, a remarkable scene unfolded: a double rainbow broke through the clouds over the palace.
It was as though the Lord of heaven and earth wanted us to know that the queen had made her way from earth to heaven.
Following the queen’s death, America’s leaders have been especially expansive in their praise. President Joe Biden called her “a stateswoman of unmatched dignity and constancy.” Bill Clinton wrote, “In sunshine or storm, she was a source of stability, serenity, and strength.”
Kevin McCarthy, minority leader of the House of Representatives, added that the queen “represented what it means to lead with conviction, selflessness, and faith in God and in her people. She led her people with grace, showing what servant leadership means in principle and in practice.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted, “Despite spending nearly three quarters of a century as one of the most famous and admired individuals on the planet, the Queen made sure her reign was never really about herself—not her fame, not her feelings, not her personal wants or needs. She guided venerable institutions through modern times using timeless virtues like duty, dignity, and sacrifice.”
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary”
Such praise is somewhat ironic coming from a nation that rebelled against the queen’s third great-grandfather, King George III.
Our Declaration of Independence from England boldly stated in 1776, “All men are created equal.” Our nation exists in rejection of the “divine right of kings” doctrine so prevalent in much of the world, the belief that God rules humans through a single human. We also reject the theological assumption that, because humans are finite and fallen, we cannot govern ourselves.
To the contrary, because humans are finite and fallen, we believe that no one of us can be trusted with unbridled authority over the rest of us. Our Founders therefore created a system of checks and balances on unbridled power and insisted that we need a consensual morality by which to navigate our lives and our nation. But they did not believe that a single monarch was needed or could be trusted, hence our rebellion against Britain and the constitutional republic that followed.
The Federalist Papers No. 51 observed: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
The queen and Billy Graham
This “great difficulty” is true even—and I would add, especially—for kings and queens. The more power one exercises, the greater the temptation to use that power for one’s personal agendas.
This fact makes Queen Elizabeth II’s humility and servant-heartedness all the more unique and illuminating.
I have visited her royal residences at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle in England and Balmoral Castle in Scotland. Each has a chapel where the queen worshiped each Sunday she was in residence. She prayed daily, every day of the week. She received religious instruction as a child from the Archbishop of Canterbury and possessed a spiritual depth that impressed many who met her.
For example, Billy Graham’s relationship with the queen began in 1955 when he conducted a Crusade in Glasgow and the BBC broadcast his message across the nation. The queen and Prince Philip listened to his sermon, then invited him to preach at Windsor Castle and to have lunch with the queen.
They met together twelve more times over the decades. She reached out to him often for spiritual guidance. He wrote in his autobiography, Just As I Am, “I always found her very interested in the Bible and its message.” (Please see our website for more on the queen’s faith and legacy.)
“The source of all fruitfulness”
The twenty-first anniversary of 9/11 is this Sunday. In the days after the horrific attack, the queen’s compassion was on full display when she assured those attending a prayer service in New York City, “My thoughts and my prayers are with you all now and in the difficult days ahead. But nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments. Grief is the price we pay for love.”
Such kindness is just one example of the “fruit of the Spirit” in her life (Galatians 5:22–23). Because we saw such fruit, we can know its source. This fact illustrates a simple but important life principle: we can measure the intimacy of our relationship with Jesus by the degree to which others see Jesus in us.
The healthier the fruit, the stronger the roots.
Jesus taught us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Charles Spurgeon commented on Jesus’ metaphor: “Every bunch of grapes have been first in the root, it has passed through the stem, and flowed through the sap vessels, and fashioned itself externally into fruit, but it was first in the stem; so also every good work was first in Christ, and then is brought forth in us.
“O Christian, prize this precious union to Christ; for it must be the source of all the fruitfulness which thou canst hope to know.”
“Much longer lives her legacy”
Many will continue to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II in the days to come. But not everyone will understand the source of her godly character and servant heart.
Amanda Gorman, the US’s youngest inaugural poet, tweeted, “Long lived the Queen—but much longer lives her legacy.”
It’s now up to Queen Elizabeth II’s fellow Christians to explain the origin of her legacy and to extend it in our lives and service, to the glory of God.