More Than a System

In November 2022, the fifth and penultimate season of Netflix’s The Crown was released. This season, focusing on the latter years of Queen Elizabeth II, holds significant weight given the death of the Queen just two months prior on September 8. While the show is about the life of Elizabeth, season five gives much attention to Diana, Princess of Wales and daughter-in-law of the Queen, and it continues to examine the challenges of her life and marriage to Prince Charles as first seen in season four.

In episode two, Prince Philip discovers that Diana is cooperating with a journalist who seeks to write a book about her life and marriage. Philip visits her in an attempt to discourage her from participating with this, as it could potentially damage the reputation of the royal family. He reminds Diana that they are not a family, but a system. Philip says she can do whatever she wants in private to maintain her happiness, but must be loyal to her husband and family in public—meaning she must remain silent.

There is certainly a degree of wisdom in Philip’s warnings, as we generally ought to keep family business private and to defend our loved ones in public.1 Yet, it is troubling that Philip encourages Diana to “break rules” and do whatever makes her happy in private, as long as she maintains loyalty to the family in public. Treating the royal family as a system rather than a family is what causes so much strife between Diana and the rest of the family. Diana finds “the system” suffocating, while Philip and the others understand their roles as members of the royal family as a duty to their country. Perhaps there is some truth in each of their views of their family.

Family as a System
Even if we are not members of the British royal family, there is still a sense in which every family is a system. One parent may take the role of working outside the home, while the other focuses on raising children and caring for the home. Parents may divide responsibilities of managing finances, cooking, cleaning, and such, and as their children get older, they too begin assuming household responsibilities. Every family is different and they each find a “system” that best works for them. For a family to flourish, it is important for everyone to do their part.

The Bible teaches the same thing about the family of God in 1 Corinthians 12. Instead of being a mere system, however, it is compared to a living organism. Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (v. 27). Just as a physical body is made up of different parts, so is the body of Christ. Each part is important and serves a purpose to help the body to function properly. We are called to unity and to care for one another, to suffer together and to rejoice together. While Philip tells Diana that the royal family is a system and not a family, this is not true at all of God’s family. The body of Christ is an organized family, which is rooted in love.

Rooted in Love
Philip tells Diana he is fond of her but he does not say that he loves her. Philip refers to the Queen not as Diana’s mother-in-law but as “the Boss.” His talk about “the system” sounds cold and machine-like, not at all like how the Bible calls the Church a living body. It is no coincidence that the chapter on the body of Christ is followed by what is possibly the most famous chapter about love in the Bible, because love is the most important aspect of family. Jesus begins his famous prayer not by saying “our Boss” or “our King,” but by appealing to “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). Paul discusses how we were adopted by God as his children, so we can call out to him, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15), the same term of endearment that Jesus used when he prayed to the Father before his crucifixion (Mark 14:36). Throughout the New Testament, fellow believers are called brothers and sisters. We are not just pawns in God’s system, we are his beloved children.

Family Forever
Diana rejects Philip’s warning and the tell-all book about Diana’s life is published, causing great tension between her and the royal family. Eventually, Diana and Charles are granted a divorce, bringing an end to their fairytale wedding and forever damaging her standing within the royal family. Similarly, we displease God when we disobey him and go astray. Yet God is always faithful to us, ready to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9). He will never cast us out or reject us: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). As members of the body of Christ, we all serve an important function; but we can never outlive our function and God will never discard us. This is because we are more than a system, we are family.

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @TimothyDFox.