Can a belief in angels heal us? That was the question posed on the January 17th episode of the Dr. Oz show, and spiritual medium Rebecca Rosen had an answer. She said, “Angels are beings of light and they are sent to help protect, comfort and heal if we are open to the possibility of allowing them in.” and went on to say “Angels are much like on-call doctors because they’re available day and night if we choose to call on them for help with a physical or mental condition.” Rosen believes that angels have been created by “God” (which may or may not be the Christian God) and encourages us to pray to angels. It’s a perspective that’s sort of spiritual but not attached to any particular religion.
The Bible mentions angels over one hundred times in the Old Testament and almost one hundred and fifty times in the New Testament. They definitely play a big role in the Judeo-Christian tradition, but many non-Christians are quite happy incorporating them into their own version of spirituality. It’s like borrowing from the mysterious, self-help parts of Christianity without having to have anything to do with Christians – those people they often perceive as being non-inclusive, rule-oriented and judgmental. Why buy into a structured religious system by doing mundane things like go to church and follow Jesus when you can just follow a trendy, best-selling author instead?
But angels can provide a common ground for us. They’ve been the topic of a host of movies such as Michael, Dogma and The City of Angels, and television programs including Highway to Heaven, Touched By an Angel and the mini-series Angels in America (above) about a gay man with AIDS being visited by an angel. A search for the word “angel” on eBay brings up over half a million items for sale, and a similar search on Amazon yields almost 100, 000 book titles to choose from. Even with all of this information at our fingertips, we still seem to have trouble understanding what they’re all about.
The Oxford dictionary defines an angel as:
- a spiritual being believed to act an an attendant, agent or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe.
- a person of exemplary conduct or virtue.
Mary and Joseph were both visited by angels with messages about the coming of Jesus, and a host of angels heralded his birth. Nobody really knows when angels came into being, although the consensus is that it was when God created the world. What we do know for sure is that there are a lot of them. Matthew 26:53 refers to “legions of angels” and Hebrews 12:22 talks about “an innumerable company of angels”. There are so many of them that according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) No. 336 we all have a guardian angel, “From infancy to death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’ Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”
It can be confusing. Sometimes angels appear with wings and sometimes they don’t. Hebrews 13:2 suggests that we may not even recognize an angel when we meet one: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” We know with some certainty that people don’t become angels when they die. We may move on to be with God and his angels, but people and angels are very separate groups, and their members aren’t interchangeable. The thought of someone turning into an angel may be comforting for us, especially when a child dies, but there’s nothing biblical that indicates it’s true.
The idea of humans being transformed into angels is a popular myth perpetuated by the art world. For hundreds of years many artists have been depicting angels as chubby children with wings that we mistakenly call cherubim (or cherubs) but are actually putti, innocent looking Cupid-like beings created by secular culture that have no basis in the Bible. In reality, cherubim are frightening. They have four faces (lion, ox, eagle and man) that peer out from the center of an array of four wings, and God uses them for specific tasks. For example, Genesis 3:24 says “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” Even higher than the cherubim in the hierarchy of heaven are the seraphim, meaning fiery ones, that have six wings.
One indication that our romanticized version of angels may be a little off the mark is that whenever the Bible mentions someone encountering one, the first thing the angel usually says is “Fear not!” because the person has fallen to the ground and hidden their face in terror. They may have our best interests at heart but they’re also capable of doing some very nasty stuff, as in 2 Kings 19:35 where God sends an angel to smite thousands of Assyrian soldiers. Even Satan himself is a fallen angel, cast out of heaven because of his pride against God (and some say his jealousy of Adam), and he’s not alone. The Book of Revelation talks about the dragon (associated with the devil or Satan) and his angels battling against the archangel Michael and his angels, as war breaks out in heaven.
So it seems that angels can be pretty scary, but whether your knowledge of them comes from the Bible or from the entertainment industry, the next time you hear someone say something warm and fuzzy like, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” (from the movie It’s A Wonderful Life) be an angel and don’t spoil it for them.