Faith in Focus

The death of Lady Diana


I was in Hastings about to go off to the second service when I heard the tragic news of the death of Lady Diana. The details of the accident, as far as they can be known, are known to all of us. Apart from the possible involvement of the paparazzi, there was nothing unique about the fatal car crash twisted beyond recognition in that tunnel in Paris. The same day many more died, even in our own country, from a variety of accidents. A plane crashed in the same week in another part of the world killing scores of people, and was barely noticed by the media. Even the death of Mother Teresa, who died a few days later, did not get the coverage that might have been expected given her profile in the media in recent decades. The death of Lady Di eclipsed them all. Some are saying that her death was the most significant such event of the 20th century. Certainly as a media extravaganza with over two and a half billion people estimated to have watched the funeral or listened to it on the radio, there was no precedent.

As Christians we need to do some analysis of the phenomena surrounding Diana's death, because it tells us something about our society. I suggest we need this knowledge if we want to remove society's misconceptions about spiritual matters and present the gospel to people in a helpful way.

The capacity for grief and sympathy

The first lesson we can learn from these events is that men and women have the capacity for grief and sympathy. The grief of millions of people could not be described as anything less than genuine. The evidence filled our TV screens and our newspapers. Weeping people, who had never met Diana, poured out their grief publicly. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on an amazing quantity of flowers laid outside palaces and places of significance to Diana. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being collected even now for some sort of permanent memorial trust for remembering Diana and her work with her charities. All this displays that men and women have an awareness of loss when someone important to them dies. We cannot accuse the general population of the world with callousness or coldness and indifference toward death in this instance. This capacity reminds us that human beings, whatever their stripe, experience a sense of loss when it comes to death. Human beings are aware that the passing of life is something to be mourned. But why is that? I want to suggest that in the case of the unbelieving world, death remains the final enemy. Death has a finality about it against which there is no argument. Death is to be feared, because many believe that death means the end of conscious existence. But why this death? Why not the death of an aborted child? Why does that death not evoke grief and sympathy? I suggest that Diana represented people's own aspirations and hopes. They saw in her youth, vibrancy and beauty, and to a large extent lived their lives, and gained meaning for their lives through her life.

When people saw Diana's death they saw the death of their alter ego. This explains the amazing sadness that many felt over the days of this tragedy. One New Zealand television reporter having attended the funeral in Westminster Abbey described her feelings as being overcome with an incredible sadness. In our preaching and witnessing we should emphasise the finality of death, not in eliminating consciousness but in finalising where we will spend a fully conscious eternity.

The deification of a princess

There is much evidence to suggest that Diana was seen as a goddess. Her brother referred to Diana as one named after the goddess of the hunt -a goddess who also was prominent in the Ephesus of Paul's day. Earl Spencer was highlighting the irony of the goddess of the hunt becoming the hunted, hounded as she was by the media. But like Mother Teresa, who is seen as a deity in India, Diana too has been elevated to the ranks of the immortals by some. We listened with disbelief as places were said to be now shrines to this young woman. A shrine is where some holy person or god might be worshipped and spoken to. Diana was spoken of in the most reverential way by the media and those called upon to eulogise her. Indeed at the funeral service she was spoken to as well. Idolatry is the only word that describes some of the responses we have seen to this death.

One condoling fan wrote of her, "I don't have much to say...Actually, I don't know what to say. I was shocked by the news. I still don't believe that such an innocent, peaceful woman, as the princess is dead. She did so much good for the world; it's not fair that she had to die." The implication here is that God is unfair in allowing her death, because she was such an innocent person. So, even if some will not assign her the status of a goddess, she is being promoted as a saint in Roman Catholic terms. This word was frequently ascribed to her in media reports.

In watching this process we may discern the understanding an unbelieving world has of sin and holiness. If Diana is a goddess or at least a saint, then she stands in the ranks of the sinless. We know that the Bible teaches that all have sinned. She was not innocent at all. I suppose people feel that she was hard done by with the philanderings of an unfaithful husband, the machinations of palace politics and the relentless pursuit of the media. This, for many, seemed to justify her own adultery within marriage and any other fault she may have displayed. As a professed Anglican she seemed about to be unequally yoked with a Muslim. And her friendship with the immoral, like Elton John (who turned up to the funeral with his male partner in tow) is hardly the example one would expect being set by a mother of two boys. Her association with these people was not with the desire to lead them to Christ. Her uncritical acceptance of them implies her uncritical acceptance of their immorality. We have to say that she was far from innocent - far from being without sin.

We have to be wary in our conversation with others regarding these events, that we do not legitimise her immorality by also elevating her to sainthood. The same goes for Mother Teresa who, while caring for people physically, also drove people away from the Triune God - not toward Him. She was a universalist who taught that there were many paths to God, not just the Lord Jesus Christ. We must never forget these sober realities.

For, in exalting Diana to sainthood, people are endorsing the old lie of the Devil that salvation comes through works. In that sense Diana was the hope of millions. Her works, hardly comparable to Mother Teresa's in their importance and extent, are believed to have gotten her to heaven. This means that my good works also can get me to heaven. As one person wrote, "I was so shocked at the news of Diana's death, am still in a daze. She was such a shining bright light, for the whole world. Not only beautiful but so generous of spirit and heart. She was also a wonderful mother, I feel so badly for the princes, William and Harry. She was the best ambassador for England, and was at the prime of her life. I am sure had she lived she would have done many wonderful things, it is such a loss!!!!! All I can think is that heaven needed a new angel, and she qualified."

We must acknowledge that Diana's humanitarian concern reaped wonderful results for the charities she associated her name with. Similarly Mother Teresa founded an order that feeds 500,000 families each year, teaches 20,000 children in schools and treats 90,000 lepers in its clinic. We don't denigrate this relief of distress in any way, but applaud it. Both women harnessed great resources to help the needy, as many other have in the past and still are.

But we must emphasise that our good works do not avail us of anything before God, unless these works are sanctified in Christ. When we are rewarded, in Christ, that too is a reward of unmerited divine favour, because God is the one behind our good works (Eph 2:8-11). We need to stress that neither Diana nor anyone else can ever get to heaven because of good works, but purely on the merits of Christ alone.

The exposure of apostate religion

The theology of liberalism was evident in abundance. Not only was salvation by works an ever present theme, but here in New Zealand, where church services were held to remember Diana, appalling messages were given in the name of Christ. Here in Wellington, there was a well-attended interfaith service with the Prime Minister taking one of the readings in the service. Other religious spokesmen also said their piece - for example, a representative of the Hindus. The message was that those who follow some other god still have access to God apart from Christ and so can join in worship of the true God and be accepted by Him. If the front page of the Dominion of the 3rd of September is correct, the Protestant mainline churches were also promoting praying for the dead. The Dominion wrote, "Leaders of the four main New Zealand Christian churches have called for all churches to open on Saturday so people can find a quiet place to remember and pray for Diana."

These themes were easily discerned in the events of recent weeks. It may be that many just had a deep affection for Diana and respect for what she was trying to do in her charity work, but more is in evidence than just that. It's as if people's own eternal significance was somehow wrapped up in the life of that young women. In her death they were reminded of their own mortality. One who seemed so alive and young was no longer. The vicarious life many lived through her was now extinguished. And so back to reality. Or is it? The reality of a mundane life that can no longer be escaped in the pages of the women's' tabloid magazines is hardly reality. The reality is that we need fellowship with God. And the glorious good news is such that this is possible. We only have to come to Christ and embrace Him as our Lord and Saviour, and the terrors of death and other tragedies need no longer cripple us. Let this be our message to this lost world and let our prayers be for them. Diana was just another fallen human being, like all of us. She was no more special than the rest of the human race and no more and no less in need of Christ than we are.

GM


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Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised October 97 / Copyright 1997