Archbishop Justin Welby has done a good job of relating the Queen’s virtues to her Christian faith. This is no easy task. The writers of the New Testament would have been very surprised by the notion that a monarch could be an exemplary Christian. And any sensible Christian leader is mindful that monarchs should be praised with care, lest religion seem cravenly reverent of tradition and worldly grandeur.
In her life, he said in his official statement, ‘we saw what it means to receive the gift of life we have been given by God and – through patient, humble, selfless service – share it as a gift to others.’ This rightly puts the emphasis on her positive outlook – something most of us struggle to have. Indeed Welby himself has struggled with depression, and so his appreciation of her sense of gratitude feels heartfelt.
The emphasis on her happy disposition continues: ‘Her Late Majesty found great joy and fulfilment in the service of her people and her God, “whose service is perfect freedom”. For giving her whole life to us, and allowing her life of service to be an instrument of God’s peace among us, we owe her a debt of gratitude beyond measure.’ The quotation from the Prayer Book is significant. The greatest cultural change in her reign was the explosion of individual freedom. It’s hard to say whether it has made us a happier society. But here is a pure, unambiguous version of freedom, rooted in order.
In two broadcast interviews on Friday, he shifted the emphasis to another theme. When he last met her, in June, he told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I came away thinking there is someone who has no fear of death, has hope in the future, knows the rock on which she stands and that gives her strength.’