Christian LivingChurch History

The Transcendent Queen

I’ve never met the Queen myself, and am very unlikely to do so now, but I love to hear stories from those who have met her personally. So much so, that I actually remember once feeling quite breathtaken when my mum casually mentioned that she’d Scottish Country Danced with the Queen at a ceilidh at Balmoral.

It feels a little embarrassing to admit feeling such awe when I heard that story. I knew my mum had spent a summer at Balmoral as a student, and that later in her life she’d met the Queen again when working as a teacher in the Middle East. But there was something about this literal first-hand encounter that felt especially striking to me. And it left me wondering why.

Of course, stories like these really are ten a penny – besides those who truly know the Queen as a family member or friend, there are thousands of people all around the world who can lay claim to have met and spoken to her, or who have even spent extended time with her. So why did I feel such awe at the thought of my own mother dancing with the Queen?

In the run up to the Platinum Jubilee, I’ve been struck again recently by the world’s fascination and deep respect for the Queen, even from those who don’t consider themselves royalists.

The reasons for this are plentiful, but certainly one of them is that the Queen’s life and reign span so much time. They cover so many world changing events. And I think this fact plays into some of my own feelings in this story.

The Queen has lived through the invention of colour TV (1926), women being given the same rights to vote as men (1929), World War Two (1939-45), the assassination of JF Kennedy (1963), the first moon landing (1969), and so much more.

She has had a front row seat – and first-hand encounters – with events and people that most people only learn about as history.

I find it thrilling that she has spent extended time with such people as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela (whom she is said to have had a close friendship with) and Vladimir Putin. She has known them as people; she has had direct interactions on which to judge their character and actions.

Perhaps it’s especially as an erstwhile student of history that this aspect of the Queen fascinates me so much, but I think most people are struck by the fact that she is a living, firsthand witness to the character of people who are of huge historical importance. Who else today has that claim?

The Queen seems, quite simply, to be a person who is above and beyond the normal range of physical human experience.

And so, on reflection, my feelings of excitement when hearing about my mum’s encounter with the Queen kind of make sense. For a moment, my own mother was physically connected to someone who has lived so expansively. In my subconscious mind, I viewed my mum as in some way touching the transcendent.

Now, as I write, I realise this thinking sounds quite silly. I was surprised in the moment to feel such awe, and I’m surprised right now as I consider the thinking that fuelled it! But actually, to think that way is perhaps not so surprising.

Really, it makes total sense when we consider humanity was designed with the very purpose of connecting with the transcendent – we were made to be in relationship with the one who truly is beyond the normal range of human experience, the one who stands over time and space.

The well-known verse from Ecclesiastes makes the point here, that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (3:11). In every human soul there is a God-given awareness that there is something more than this transient world, and, as Augustine said, our hearts are “restless” until we are anchored to that “something more” – God himself. 

Much more than simply being a firsthand witness of the character of Robert Mugabe or Nicolae Ceausescu, it is God who sees the thoughts of every single human heart and knows each person better than we know ourselves (Ps 44:21, 139:2-23). He alone knows the end from the beginning (Isa 46:10); he alone will judge every act of history with perfect insight and justice (Eccl 3:17).

In a “restless” moment it is really no surprise that I felt a thrill at the thought of my mum’s encounter with what I viewed as the transcendent. But that is such misdirected awe. Our greatest feelings of awe and breathtaking wonder should be directed towards the one who deserves all our wonder and praise (Rev 4:11). It is Jesus – the Lamb who was slain – who sits on the eternal throne and it is he alone who is worthy “to receive … honour and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12-14). 

The funny thing is that if I were ever to have the opportunity to share this anecdote with the Queen, I’m sure that the Queen, as a Christian herself, would point this out to me. And actually, I just might get to speak to the Queen one day after all…  although not in this lifetime. Because her trust is also in Jesus, I can look forward to meeting her in a place that is free from sickness, sorrow and pain, a place where all Jesus’ followers from all over the world, and from all of history, will gather together before him.[1]

Now that thought is really the astonishing one. Far more exciting than my own mother dancing with the Queen is that one day, she and I and all God’s people will rejoice together in eternity, as we bow before the throne of the one true, eternal, transcendent King.

[1] For more on the Queen’s Christian faith, see this article. I also recommend The Servant Queen and the King She Serves, published by the Bible Society for her 90th birthday in 2016. For children, I love the new biography on Queen Elizabeth by Alison Mitchell, published by The Good Book Company.