Nearly seven in ten Americans believe in angels, while almost half believe they have their own guardian angel. And one in three say they have felt an angelic presence some time in their life. But before we break out the champagne and celebrate our culture’s return to a more spiritual worldview, let’s consider the fact that much of what we know—or think we know—about angels is probably wrong.
Most Americans get their information about celestial spirits from movies and TV rather than from the Bible; we learn more from Michael Landon than from Ezekiel; more from Victoria’s Secret than from Revelation.
Well, these popular descriptions of angels are nothing like the awe-inspiring reality. And if you’re interested in the real thing, I highly recommend the new book “Lifted by Angels: The Presence and Power of Our Heavenly Guides and Guardians” by my friend Joel Miller.
Miller did his research: He pored through the Bible, ancient Jewish literature, and an impressive array of writings of the early Church fathers. And Miller paints a gloriously comprehensive, and even surprising, portrait of these heavenly beings.
My first surprise was realizing just how much Scripture is filled with angelic encounters. Sure, I know the texts, but I’ve got to admit that I haven’t been on the lookout for angels through the pages of the Bible. But Miller does a great job of opening our eyes to the presence of angels in Scripture—and in daily life.
Here’s how Miller describes angels: “Scripture says they are like wind and fire, winged, and in some cases many-eyed. They are spirits. In the language of the church they are ‘the honorable bodiless powers of heaven.’” I like that!
Miller continues: “Because they lack physicality like our own, they are described as incorporeal, rational, and noetic. Gregory Nazianzen called them ‘nimble intelligences’ . . . Sometimes the ancient writers spoke of them as fiery, as did Basil [the Great,] who identified their substance as ‘an ethereal spirit . . . an immaterial fire’ … The psalmist spoke of angels as winds and flames.”
Yet Miller says believers actually have a lot in common with angels—at least the unfallen kind! Augustine thought we should consider them very much a part of our own world, even as our own neighbors.
Though we do not normally see angels, they are nearer than we think, intensely interested in what is going on here on Earth, charged by the Lord with helping Christians when we’re tempted, when we face opposition to our faith, when we share the hope of the gospel, and—perhaps most encouragingly—when we die.
Amazingly, “Lifted by Angels” makes clear that the Lord uses angels to bring our prayers before his throne (Rev 5:8 and 8:3-4) and to send us messages. Angels aid us in worship, protect us from dangers, and help us cultivate holiness in our lives. “Let us,” said John Chrysostom, “exemplify the life of angels, the virtue of angels, the conversation of angels.”
And, yes, according to Miller and many of the Church fathers, we actually do have guardian angels. But Miller also warns against an unhealthy fixation on angels, knowing that they exist not to bring attention to themselves, but to God.
Friends, we’ve recently talked about the fact that the devil is real, and that he’s an active agent of evil in God’s world. Part of being equipped as Christians is to take note of his schemes so we can pray with alertness, since he goes around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
But shouldn’t we also take note of the fact that there are active agents of good, too, given by the Lord so that we can know and serve Him better?
— John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint, a radio commentary that is broadcast on 400 stations with an audience of eight million.