We learn as much about a person in their death, as in life, because many of those acquainted with the deceased, begin to reflect and share; memories, conversations, observations and knowledge, culminating in a funeral which is carefully orchestrated to represent the intrinsic nature and qualities of the one being honored.
This is what many of us have witnessed on a grand scale as HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, passed away last week. As the longest serving consort in British history, it was inevitable that he would leave an impactful legacy but that he used his influence in a dutiful and innovative manner, is a blessing for this nation and many others.
As a man who described himself as a refugee, relinquishing his birth title of Prince of Denmark and Greece, to marry the sovereign of the United Kingdom, would have exacerbated the sense of displacement but his natural intellect, confidence, resilience and privileged upbringing as a true aristocrat, allowed him to win distinction and success on his very own merit; a glittering and distinguished career in the navy could not be denied to a man of such mental and physical fortitude.
Applying the force and brilliance of his mind and character to his role as consort, Philip was innovative in researching and understanding contemporary history and science, in order to ensure that programmes and initiatives were created, which would ensure that this nation was at the cutting edge of social and environmental conservation and innovation. The Duke of Edinburgh Award is perhaps the most well-known example of the approach Philip took in ensuring social, educational and physical pursuit was enabled and championed in the UK and commonwealth.
It is logical that as human beings successful in many endeavours, we are also unsuccessful in others, and by the time we attain a few decades of adulthood, we are keenly aware that some failure in ourselves and our belief system is inevitable. This awareness comes with the difficulty of accepting that some firmly held views about life and existence must also be wrong.
When Prince Philip was in this position of crisis as many have termed it, it caused him to take an about turn on his closed position against Christianity. Having sought answers to existence in science, he realised that the complexities of existence could not be found through lateral reasoning, but that one has to humble themselves and look upward at an author, rather than explorer, of science and existence.
It is at this point, that alongside all those of us who find faith in Jesus, Philip was able to benefit from the great and joyful knowledge, that there is a creator and not only that, but He is also a redeemer from all that which has forced us into desperate reasoning and searching for answers.
Many commentators have referred to Prince Philip’s faith as being defined by his doubts and questioning but I would argue, is this not how any adult confirms their belief and faith? Let us look to the bible; we see in the book of Job, that Job and his friends gather to have extensive debates all underpinned by their reasoning of the acts of his case in light of their experience and therefore understanding of God.
At the end of this book, God clearly commends Job as his servant who speaks rightly of Him and condemns those who have not (Job 42:7), which demonstrates God’s expectation that we ought to use the wisdom He has bestowed upon us, as we are made in His image (Genesis 1:27), to reason and understand Him, and then ourselves and the world around us, in light of our understanding about Him. This is why the Psalmist David proclaims; “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
In reviewing the questioning of Philip, we are reminded of Mary when she is visited by the Angel Gabriel and told that she will bear God’s very own Son and the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. A crisis in thought and emotion is natural for human beings, when we are confronted with matters of paramount significance in our spiritual and physical existence- after all, the gravity of their impact upon our current and eternal existence necessitates that we will struggle to wrestle them out, desperate to ensure that we make the correct choice.
For this reason, we read in Luke 1:29, that Mary is startled by the manner of honourable greeting she receives from the angel and not only this, but when Gabriel explains that she will give birth to the Son of God, she immediately asks how this will be scientifically possible as she is a virgin? (Luke 1:34) It is this questioning, and reasoning with the Word and her experience, which affirm her belief, that this is indeed truth. This is the conviction of faith which launches our true conversion to faith, and causes it to become more than something received or inherited, but owned as a conviction.
It appears that for Philip, the conviction of faith affirmed his understanding of the power and vitality of the natural wonders of the world, as the subject of a powerful, vital and sovereign Creator who has a plan and purpose for this glorious world of time, matter and space. As one who employed his physical prowess to sail, climb and swim, conquering the majestic landscapes of the world, he knew intimately the respect due to One who created, controlled and mastered it all.
Many of the Anglican clergy who shared private and regular audiences with Philip and the Queen, preaching and discussing faith and theology with them, have shared that they were robustly challenged by Prince Philip because he was eager to understand deeply, matters of faith, scripture, Christian history and Church tradition. Philip was also eager to understand the lived Christian experience and it appears that these private and extensive conversations that took place regularly over the years, led him to find his own faith and develop a personal relationship with God. The Archbishop of York, John Semtanu, fondly shared that the Prince’s faith had grown “deeper and deeper” and that he had declared many years ago to him personally that “the Queen and I are so strong in Jesus Christ”.
As any believing seaman, he must have been captivated by Lord Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14:25), subduing both wind and waves with just His words (Mark 4:39). How much more evident could Philip’s awe of God as the Creator, be, than in his choice of Psalm 104 to be read at his funeral, known as the “Creation Psalm”? In this Psalm, God’s sovereignty and glory are communicated by metaphorical language and analogies which use creation and nature as expressions of His majesty, wisdom and kindness; God is described as being clothed and homed by His creation as it seeks to honour and serve Him. Likewise, nature and creation are shown to be employed by God to bestow kindness upon human beings and animals so that we may have provision and order.
A natural conclusion for Prince Philip, as he finally understood the forces of nature which he learned to respect and admire as child schooled by the German Jewish educationalist, Dr Kurt Hahn, who believed in immersing children in the wild outdoors to build resilience and a survival mentality, was to understand that their excellence and formidability was a reflection of their Creator. This led Philip to begin to understand his role as an admirer and steward of God’s creation and in 1989, he co-authored the book “Survival or Extinction: A Christian Attitude to the Environment” (1989).
Now that the Prince has put off his mortal body and joined the true Prince of Peace, and his personal Saviour, Jesus, we hope that he can pose his many questions of faith to him directly. We also pray that the Prince of Peace will comfort Philips’ wife of 73 years, the Queen, who stated “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace,…is an inspiration and an anchor in my life”.