Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, died today at the age of ninety-six.
This news is understandably center stage for the United Kingdom, which has been preparing for their queen’s passing for some time. Television anchors changed into black attire to communicate the news. The UK Parliament and legislatures in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are being adjourned. Plans are already underway for the queen’s funeral, which is expected to take place ten days after her death.
In the United States, media has been covering her impending death all day. As I write, outlets across the political spectrum are carrying the story of the beloved monarch’s homegoing.
The UK’s favorite monarch
Why do Americans so venerate the queen of a country against whose king we once rebelled?
One reason is obviously her uniqueness as a queen and as a person: Queen Elizabeth II is not only Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, but their favorite. In a poll conducted for The Sunday Times in 2015, she was voted the United Kingdom’s greatest monarch, followed by Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria.
Television shows like The Crown have made her story accessible to millions of Americans, many of whom are young enough to be her great-grandchildren. Her unfailing dignity, grace, wisdom, and perseverance have been on display across seven decades in the public eye. She is beloved, and deservedly so.
But there’s more to the story.
“There shall be a king over us”
In 1 Samuel 8, the elders of Israel came to Samuel with the demand, “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (v. 5). Why did a nation governed by the King of the universe (v. 7) insist on an earthly king?
They wanted a king to lead them: “There shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us” (v. 19–20a). They wanted a king to resolve their disputes, protect them from each other, and guide their nation like “all the nations.”
They wanted a king to protect them: “and fight our battles” (v. 20b). Saul was therefore an appropriate choice due to his stature: “From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2). When he then led them to defeat the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:5–11), the people united behind his rule (vv. 12–15).
The Israelites expressed basic human nature. There is something in us that wants someone in our lives we can trust and venerate, an example we can follow and emulate, a strength we can make our own. For seven decades, Queen Elizabeth II has been that person for her people.
She led them through dark days and crises and gave them a sense of solidarity and security when they needed her influence the most. For example, her televised address during the coronavirus pandemic, assuring her people that “we will overcome it,” gave them hope in a hopeless time. She encouraged them: “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”
She was right.
“God help me to make good my vow”
While Queen Elizabeth II has been the quintessential monarch, she knew that the King of Israel is the King of the universe (Revelation 19:16). He will never die and his reign will never end. She therefore made his strength her strength.
On her twenty-first birthday, she told the nation: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.” She added, “God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.” At her 1953 coronation, she stated her desire that “for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.”
In The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace, and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown, biographer Dudley Delffs explains her enormous popularity: “Numerous factors contribute, including Her Majesty’s intelligence, humility, humor, poise, and grace under pressure. She is authentically herself. The Queen exudes a kind of confidence that cannot be contrived. In addition, she has sustained that poise for over seven decades and through numerous crises, both personal and political. At the heart of this confidence, we glimpse Her Majesty’s personal faith in God.”
Delffs reports that for her ninetieth birthday, the queen participated in the publication of a book titled, The Servant Queen and the King She Serves. The book was published by Bible Society UK; over 100,000 copies were given away and used as faith-based conversation starters by Christians and churches all over the world. It proved so popular that the Bible Society had to print another 150,000 copies to meet demand.
“An inspiration and an anchor in my life”
In her annual Christmas broadcast for 2014, the queen stated, “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace . . . is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”
Last month, the queen issued a message to the Lambeth Conference (a gathering of bishops of the Anglican Church) in which she testified: “Throughout my life, the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and in them I find hope. It is my heartfelt prayer that you will continue to be sustained by your faith in times of trial and encouraged by hope in times of despair.”
Now Queen Elizabeth II is in the presence of the One she trusted and served so faithfully.
May we honor her life and legacy by emulating her faith, to the glory of God.
NOTE: For her brief biography in historical context, please see “The life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II,” by Dr. Ryan Denison.