I write this editorial from the UK, just a week after the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 8 September. Across this country and the world, much sorrow is being expressed. This outpouring of grief is natural for a greatly loved queen who had reigned for 70 years. Most citizens of the UK can remember no other monarch and many have treasured memories of her. I myself was immensely privileged to have lunch with Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace along with a small group of other guests.
We in the UK are now entering a new age with a new king, and some are wondering what lies ahead. Meanwhile the whole global community is faced with issues affecting the very fundamentals of our existence in a world filled with suffering.
On the same day as the Queen’s death, 8 September 2022, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) issued its annual human development report; it was entitled Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives. “We live in a world of worry,” wrote Pedro Conceição, Director of the Human Development Report Office in his foreword to the report.1
There is no doubt that we live in a hurting world, disrupted by many factors. There is conflict between human factions and nations, alarmingly destructive weather extremes, a pandemic that is not going away, and an unprecedented number of refugees and other displaced people, with all these factors affecting the mental health of many.
Uncertainty itself is not new but, says the UNDP report, “its dimensions are taking ominous new forms today. A new ‘uncertainty complex’ is emerging, never before seen in human history.”2 The report identifies “three volatile and interacting strands” making up the uncertainty complex:
Different cultures respond to distress and grief in different ways, but expressing our feelings audibly is often helpful, whether in words or in sighs, groans and tears.3 In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this is put into words when Malcolm speaks to Macduff who has just been informed that his wife and all his children have been slaughtered and evidently stands speechless, trying to take it in:
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.4
The Bible gives many examples of verbal and physical grief including Jesus Himself who was so moved by the mourning group at the tomb of Lazarus that He shook with emotion (John 11:33, the literal meaning of the last part of this verse which is translated “troubled” in many English versions). He also wept (v.35). His very spirit was disturbed (v.33). He did not stand aloof like the Stoics, unaffected by the situation. In fact, the exact opposite occurred. He felt emotion keenly. Deep and overwhelming grief expressed itself physically.
As we approach a new year, confronted with seemingly insoluble issues impacting on all of us, we cannot stand aloof from the sufferings of others. Just as so many shared corporately in mourning for our beloved Queen Elizabeth, so now as Christians in a dark and broken world we must share the pain that others experience – the pain of the world in general, but especially that of our Christian brothers and sisters.
The Christmas season begins soon, when we celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus, the Light of the World. Let us rejoice that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). He is Christ Jesus our hope (1 Timothy 1:1). He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) who, in our world of worry, says to us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1).