The Meaning of Monarchy
‘Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! … May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!’ (Psalm 72:1, 6-7).
As tributes to Queen Elizabeth II are received from around the world, it is fitting to pause and consider quite why it is that our sovereign’s death has affected so many at such a profound level.
Last Thursday brought news of an event that had long been anticipated: the final breath of a much-loved but increasingly frail Queen.
Although long-expected, however, the tidings have proved jarring, unseemly almost. The passing of an aged monarch, in many ways the most natural of events, somehow feels deeply amiss. Many seem instinctively to recoil from the bluntness, the finality of it all. But there is something else, too – something that heightens our reaction to the affront of death. We instinctively feel that a good reign should not come to an end. The Bible’s grand narrative enables us to make some sense of these surprising emotions. According to that narrative, we were made to live in joyful, unbroken fellowship with the true Sovereign, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace. Not only that, but we were formed to be his royal consorts, to reign with him as those who exercise as well as enjoy the prerogatives of perfect monarchy. Since the expulsion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, from the Garden of Eden, our race has made repeated attempts to establish lasting royal dynasties. We have looked time and again to kings, queens, emperors, and regents to help us orient our lives and provide the stability we need. Some attempts have been more successful than others, but in every aspiration to monarchy we discern a spiritual dynamic – a yearning for something we sense we have lost, and must get back to.
Queen Elizabeth II was not a perfect monarch, and the decades of moral decline over which she presided have been no golden age. Despite this, her personal virtues, unrelenting service to her people, and professed faith in God have been an extended demonstration of what beneficent reign looks like. She has been one of the great exceptions to the rule that power and privilege corrupt those who possess them. Our grief at her death is the counterpart of our recognition of the quality of her life as a worthy and self-effacing ruler. In her final breath, her literal ‘expiration’, is an invitation to look upwards, and beyond her.
The Bible reveals that there is One whose reign, unlike that of Elizabeth II, is entirely beneficent, righteous, universal, and everlasting. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ in these terms: ‘Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.’ (Isaiah 9:7). Here is a king whose personal interests align so closely with the good of his people that his royal power and their peace increase together.
It is in this context, the ultimate context of Christ the King, that we must interpret our longing for government that is limited neither by human weakness and sin, nor by the decaying effects of time. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, ‘If I find in myself a desire for a monarchy without equal or end, like and yet unlike every earthly dynasty, is it unreasonable to assume I was made to be a subject of such a kingdom?’
As we lose a monarch who was decent, honest, and compelling, may we look to one greater: the only King who is utterly Good, True, and Beautiful.
It would be a fitting tribute to our late Queen if we did.
Photo credit: PRESS ASSOCIATION / Danny Lawson.
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