A most unusual time lies behind us. Diana, the Queen of hearts, died on 30th August 1997 in a horrendous car crash in Paris. Her friend, Dodi Al Fayed, and the driver also lost their lives. The people of Great Britain and many other parts of the world were shocked and deeply grieved over what had happened. A few days later, on 5th September, Her Majesty the Queen addressed the British people in a nation-wide broadcast. ‘There are lessons to be drawn from her life and from the extraordinary and moving reaction to her death,’ she said of Diana.
In the special tribute edition of the Mirror newspaper reporter Mary Riddell described in moving words what Diana’s son William, the future King, must have felt during the procession behind his mother’s coffin at the funeral:
‘As he walked out, on the longest journey of his life, his sorrow seemed almost more terrible than death itself. The streets were the London of his childhood. The Mall. Horseguards Approach. Whitehall. They appeared like stations of the cross on the road to Calvary. How could he bear the heavy burden, all who watched him thought…The funeral marked the beginning of the AD era. After Diana.’ (Page 4, Monday, 8th September 1997, UK)
Everywhere special church services were attended by thousands of mourners. They were seeking comfort by him about whom it is written in the Gospel of Matthew:
‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ (9:36)
Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair is quoted, saying, ‘Let her legacy be compassion. Let’s be a better, more compassionate Britain.’ (Ibid. page 14)
If only his wishes came true! If only we became a people who truly identify with the suffering of others and as a result of that would be prompted to give help! On that same day news reached the world that Mother Theresa, the mother of India’s poorest, had died of a heart attack in Calcutta. US president Bill Clinton is recorded to have said after the extraordinary scenes surrounding Diana’s funeral:
‘Two women of vastly different backgrounds and worlds are gone. But each in her own way has shown us what it is to live a life of meaning through concern for others. This is their great legacy. Let us honour it.’ (Ibid. page 32, Monday, 8th September 1997)
Many profound lessons have been drawn, and will be drawn; rightly so. But what is the ultimate lesson the nation and the world must draw from the lives of these two remarkable women? What is there really to be learned from the countless tears and the immense pain experienced? What made Mother Theresa and Diana so special is the fact that they were prepared to leave their lives of comfort in order to help the dying and the destitute. They were ready to enter the miserable lives of Leprosy and AIDS sufferers to such an extent that they dared to touch them with their actions emotionally and even physically. The nations loved them for this. People want a monarchy that is in touch with its subjects. They yearn for those of great power and influence to compassionately reach down to them and so to become one of them. Revealed here is the climax of the ultimate lesson for all of us to learn: God did exactly that in a perfect way! In the Gospel of John we read:
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.’ (1:1-18)
The Almighty God, the King of kings, came among us in Jesus for two reasons: Firstly, to show us who God is: Absolutely Holy; unable to accept any kind of evil. It has become evident in the lives of Diana and Mother Theresa that even the good people have great weaknesses. Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, said in his tribute to her at the funeral, ‘Diana explained to me once that it was her innermost feelings of suffering that made it possible for her to connect with her constituency of the rejected and here we come to another truth about her. For all the status, the glamour, the applause, Diana remained throughout a very insecure person at heart, almost childlike in her desire to do good for others so she could release herself from deep feelings of unworthiness of which her eating disorders were merely a symptom.’ (Ibid.p.11)
Diana’s suffering was partly caused by her not being able to reach the expected school results and by her parent’s and her own break up of marriage. She looked for guidance by consulting her personal astrologer rather than God in prayer, as it seems. Mother Theresa’s work never tried to break the barrier between rich and poor…’ She was accepting ‘cash from dubious sources: Papa Doc, Charles Keating Jr., Robert Maxwell.’ (The Times, Monday 8th September 1997, page 19)
Elton John sang at Diana’s funeral the beautiful song ‘Candle in the wind.’ However, the line, ‘Now you belong to heaven’ can be misleading. Not our good works enable us to go to heaven but faith in the good work Jesus did on our behalf! That brings us to the second reason why God, the King came among us: To reveal the wonderful good news that God, the creator of the whole universe loves us! His Holiness and his Justice demand the punishment and consequently the horrendous eternal separation of the sinner from him. But his unspeakable Love demands the forgiveness of those who have in rebellion gone their own ways. In Jesus he met the demands of his holiness, his justice, and of his love at the cross! There he took the punishment for our sins upon himself and died on our behalf so that we might have life everlasting! Jesus rose on the third day from the dead and now calls upon all mankind:
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)
P.T. Forsyth wrote in his book ‘The Justification of God’ (Duckworth, 1916) on page 32: ‘I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolises divine suffering. The cross of Christ… is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours.’
What is here said about Buddha can be said about Allah and all other concepts of God, which have been presented to the people throughout human history.
The playlet entitled ‘The Long Silence’ sums up well the ultimate lesson to be learned from Diana and Mother Theresa:
‘At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. ‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. ‘We endured terror…beatings… torture… death!’ In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. ‘What about this?’ he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. ‘Lynched… for no crime but being black!’ In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. ‘Why should I suffer’ she murmured, ‘It wasn’t my fault.’ Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping of fear, any hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.
So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!
‘Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured. At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’ As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.’
Will you come to God who suffered for you in Jesus in simple faith by prayer? Will you ask him for forgiveness for going your own selfish ways? Will you ask him to come to live in you through his Holy Spirit as he promised he would?