People use the phrase "end of an era" often.
While it may describe our perceived shift in the culture or environment around us, it doesn't represent a seismic shift for all of humanity.
People are born, they live, and they die. Occasionally, a person achieves greatness or notoriety enough that they are memorialized in history books. If they are luckier still, they leave a lasting impression on the generations to come that is visible even without the invocation of their names.
It is truly rare, therefore, when we witness the death of the last person who symbolizes a bygone era.
Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952. She was born in 1926 into the very twilight years of the British Empire. She was contemporary with lions of that era such as Winston Churchill, who still remembered the glories of the Victorian Era, when the sun never set on the Empire. When she was a girl, cars and planes were still scarce, and most people in the world lived the agrarian lives they had for thousands of years.
In a way, she represents the end of medieval European Christendom in the era of hard-earned prosperity and learning that happened over the centuries. The end of that era began arguably with the American Revolution and the revolutions in Europe that followed. I'm not sad for the end of European aristocracy, but I do recognize that those traditional institutions are the last vestige of the old codes of chivalry, honor, and civilization focused on exploration and discovery for the glory of God.
With Elizabeth gone, there is no real person who symbolically connects the past to the future. We are truly moving into a different part of human history.
I do not mean that Elizabeth should be remembered without criticism, but I am not here to critique the victories and failings of a woman before she has even been buried. All those shrieking voices that are celebrating her death are fools who do not understand that they too will die one day. The pay no heed to their own sins or to eternity. I pray those visiting the queen as she lies in state at Balmoral and Westminster Palace drown out those vindictive voices.
What I mean is that Elizabeth is a reminder for us of both the triumphs and the painful lessons of those that came before. Our civilization is falling apart at a rapid pace; we must look to the past to understand why.
The gallantry and heraldry and chivalry of old Europe, with concertos and cathedrals that sought to glorify God, still draws millions of tourists each day. Hallmark Channel movies show us average girls that fall in love with stately princes from charming European nations steeped in tradition, honor, and decorum.
There is a reason for this. The history of Europe, like all civilizations, is a storied one. It is full of conquerors and explorers and ambitious men who sought to topple kingdoms and find new treasures.
But there is something unique in that history and tradition, and it is not, as the Marx-worshipping kids these days like to say, racist to point it out: There was some secret sauce within the rise of European civilization that caused it to rise like bread with yeast, as opposed to every other civilization before that faded and fell into ruin.
Let me share a thought by C.S. Lewis to put what I'm about to say in context:
That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few years, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.
This is true. Anyone who looks at the ruins of Giza, Machu Picchu, the Parthenon, Angkor, Easter Island, or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon can attest to this fact.
We see it in our own world today. There is "some fatal flaw" that is bringing "the selfish and cruel people to the top," and we intuitively know this means we're about to slide "back into misery and ruin."
What then, has kept Europe going for so long? What has led that Continent to endure – despite the many flaws it shared with all civilizations – in creating systems of law, governance, art, science, architecture, and recognition of human rights on a scale never before seen in human history?
Perhaps the Queen of the United Kingdom herself could shed some light on that.
From her Christmas address in 2014:
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.
And in 2016:
Jesus Christ lived obscurely for most of his life, and never travelled far. He was maligned and rejected by many, though he had done no wrong. And yet, billions of people now follow his teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them, because Christ's example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.
The world over, we all share the same personal and societal flaws that were embodied by Queen Elizabeth II.
But few of her station represented the redemption, grace, and majesty found only in Jesus Christ.
She is the last of an order stretching back centuries beyond Charlemagne that represents the Medieval European society that ordered itself around Christ – the society that created the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the American experiment in liberty, not to mention individuals such as Shakespeare, John Locke, or Beethoven, or scientific advances such as the printing press, the triangular sail, or electricity.
These were not happy accidents. Other societies made many of the same inventions long before, but all of them were missing something in their civilizational recipe that caused them to fall.
Jesus claimed to be "the way, the truth, and the life" – that no one comes to God except through Him. Talk about a claim!
We should consider the evidence to support that claim. Jesus Christ was, as the queen said, an obscure man who lived in ancient Judea during the reign of the Roman Empire. If his claim to be the Son of God and truth itself were a lie, he should have remained obscure.
Or perhaps, if he was a skilled grifter, he might persuade people to follow him for a time in his cult.
But if he was actually correct, then we should be able to see evidence of it in the world. How has the name of Christ influenced the world?
The Jewish religious teacher Gamaliel once told other Jewish teachers not to persecute Jesus' followers, because the proof was in the pudding:
Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.
And yet, by 1800, even despots like Napoleon Bonaparte had this to say about that obscure man:
Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.
All the way up through 2022, the world had a sovereign leader who believed this to be true. Now that the last one connecting us to this belief has died, we find ourselves looking ahead to an uncertain future.
Which path will we choose? Will we "decenter" the "colonizers" so that the oppressed may oppress their oppressors and create a bold future through endless revolution? Will we cast aside the lessons of Europe and remove the names of its heroes and villains from history? Will we put our boots on the necks of all who disagree in the name of tolerance?
And most importantly, will we throw away the name of Jesus in the name of forging our own identities?
The last age is ended. May God Almighty have mercy on us and be patient with us. May we may remember Him as we start a new one, and live.
"Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other." – C.S. Lewis
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