Sep 21, 2014 0
People sometimes are more attracted to fantasy than reality, which amuses me. When it doesn’t amuse me it disheartens me. I understand real life can be grim; that our souls seek poetic escape; that fiction often codifies the moral tendencies of a culture, and we thereby create comfort zones. Blah, blah, blah, as literary critics say.
But why is this true, when reality can also be sweeter than any fiction? As a former editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney, I spent a lot of time trafficking in the contemporary versions of civilization’s epic confrontations and traditional fairy tales. But I have to report that I wondered, during my Marvel days, why millions of readers were so invested in superheroes, forever asking “what if?” about characters with super powers, invincibility, the ability to defy nature, fighting life-threatening foes and defeating evil, as good as good guys can be… but how so many of those young (and older) readers could be indifferent about Jesus.
Jesus was the greatest superhero of them all, doing all those things quite easily – and we can add attributes like time travel, walking through walls, and rising from death. Everything but the Spandex, right?
Yet many people prefer fantasy to reality. Speculation to truth. Mythological heroes to men and women of history. Of course, I suspect that a major factor is pride: humans have the tendency to monopolize the truth, or persuade themselves that they can do so. Malleable stories are therefore more comforting than stark reality.
For instance, what about angels in this essay’s title? Well, it struck me a few years ago when the Angel Fad was coursing through the bloodstream of America, that many people equated that with a rise in spirituality.
Yet Angelmania was spiritual only if Hallmark stores are churches, only if costume jewelry is sacramental, only if Della Reese (“Touched By an Angel”) is an ordained minister of the gospel. (In fact she does pastor a church – in Los Angeles, where else? – called the Universal Foundation for Better Living, a non-Christian Unity or New Age sort of church whose pope is someone called The Reverend Doctor Johnnie Colemon.) So she and Rev. Dr. Johnnie are ministers, but not of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
But angels did populate the Christian culture for a season. Now they largely populate storage closets and the backs of dresser drawers, along with posters of elves and fairies, garden gnomes, and WWJD bracelets. Odd, no?
I do believe in angels – I mean I believe they exist – just as I believe it is useful to ask myself “What Would Jesus Do?” in daily situations. I am fairly certain He would not have worn angel pins, but that is not my point. These things are not evil, and I might yet seek forgiveness for being spiritually flippant. BUT.
I am quite serious when I regard anything that takes our eyes off the gospel message of salvation can be the essence of sin: missing the mark. Yes, I believe that angels exist, but not the angels of popular culture. The Bible describes them, and that’s enough for me. But we need to understand certain things:
1. There are actually many things we DON’T understand about angels, and cannot understand, because the Bible often is intentionally vague;
2. Their role, as described in the Bible, principally is as messengers and “ministering spirits”;
3. They are not humans in heavenly bodies; they are separate creations; they can appear sometimes as humans (my family had such an encounter), but are spirits;
4. Except for the seraphim, only occasionally are they described as having wings;
5. All angels are not good: Satan attracted one-third of them in his rebellion;
6. They are not omniscient nor can they be omnipresent… or they would be as God;
7. In their perhaps uncountable numbers, they are not anonymous – Michael and Gabriel are two who have central roles in the heavenly realms, and will play mighty parts when prophecies are fulfilled – cherubim, seraphim and others are ministering spirits to us, and comprise worshipful choruses before the throne.
So. No offense to my own guardian angel, if I have one, but I am suspicious of Christianity that lives in jewelry and not necessarily in our hearts. Or expressions that serve as statements of our faith, when our very lives, instead, should show our love – faith in action.
Ultimately, there is, I think, one important thing to remember about angels. And this will prove I am not a spiritual abuser of these mysterious creatures, far from it. Angels, created by God before mankind was created, and not glorified souls of humans, have never known what you and I have experienced.
Never sick? Never feeling loss or betrayal or pain or grief? Never sinning? How can that be a negative? I feel sorry for them precisely for those reasons. No angel knows the shackles of sin, broken by the power of salvation. No angel knows the joy of forgiveness. No angel has experienced bondage and blood-bought redemption. We are more precious in God’s sight even than angels, more than all creation.
All angels can sing “Jesus loves me, this I know.” None can sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Jesus came to die for human beings, every one of us who will accept His sacrifice. Sorry, angels, He didn’t die for you. Yet the Bible tells me so, that you will be ministering to us, just the same, as we enter Glory. As we gather around the Throne together, that’s when I really will feel the touch of angels’ wings.
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An old American hymn (ca. 1860) is the comforting “Angel Band,” written by Jefferson Hascall with music by William Batchelder Bradbury. It originally was known by its incipit, “My latest sun is sinking fast, my race is nearly run.” It has painted a true picture of the heavenly orders for generations of Christians.
Click: Angel Band