National Catholic Register

Commentary

Angels Among Us

part two in a series

BY John Lilly

July 1-7, 2007 Issue | Posted 6/26/07 at 10:00 AM

 

Last week, we discussed the predicament of those who try to avoid the rather strong inference of a universe made by You Know Who via recourse to the so-called “multiverse” theory.

This theory accounts for the extraordinary fine tuning of the universe by positing an infinite number of other universes in which physical laws are all different. Ours just happens to be the lucky one where the one in 10-to-the-137th-power odds of everything making you and me possible happen to have panned out.

Believe it or not, some people are so eager to get rid of God they will buy those odds. However, most people don’t. And so most people don’t need to be convinced of the existence of what we call the “supernatural” beyond the visible world of time, space, matter and energy.

The difficulty, as we noted last week, is that “supernature” can refer to many things besides God, and we often have a tough time distinguishing those things from one another, much as an amoeba might have trouble distinguishing a child, an adult and a redwood as anything other than “huge.”

Looking up to heaven, we human amoebas likewise use “supernatural” to describe not merely the uncreated God, but also creatures such as angels.

Angels are higher in the order of creation than we, but they are still as distinct from God (and even from each other) as they are from us and as we are from beetles.

Partly this confusion is due to natural ignorance. Revelation tells us only what we need to know for the good of our souls. Just as Scripture is not particularly interested in questions of geology, cookery, political science or physics except insofar as they happen to have to do with the real story — God’s plan of salvation in Christ Jesus — so it is only interested in angels when they have something to do with that basic story. So Revelation tells us angels are real and that they serve God and us for our salvation and for the praise of his glory — and that’s about all we know.

It’s interesting to note that the amoeba problem goes way back. In the Old Testament, even the inspired writers have a difficult time telling the difference between an angelic messenger and the One who sent them.

Frequently, the angel speaks the word of God in an odd mixture of first and third person, leaving the reader to wonder if this is a theophany (a manifestation of God himself) or just an angel. By the time of the New Testament, however, confusing the angelic messenger with his Lord is worthy of rebuke (as John discovers when he prostrates himself before an angel in his Revelation). Angels work in the life of the believer to help us, defend us and guide us.

Always, they are about the work of bringing each person and the world closer to the Triune God revealed in Christ Jesus.

Unfortunately, many Americans are now back to a pre-Moses understanding of angels. Much New Age spirituality appears to resemble something like religious methadone treatment: a sort of fuzzy devotion to “angels” as pretty much the whole show, coupled with a curious aversion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Such “angels” tend to show up in gooey self-help books that affirm us in our okayness, promise us health and wealth through positive thinking and assure us that the old tired message of guilt and death and sacrifice and obedience to the Christian God is passé.

I expect that a lot of these reported encounters with angels are just fiction (as indeed, most reported encounters with “orthodox” angels are). But whether such Christ-denying angels are figments of the imagination or not they fill the bill for Paul’s warning about angels of light.

The truth is this: The point of the spiritual life is not angels any more than the point of driving is traffic signs. An angel who directs you to himself or to your self-sufficient wonderfulness is a devil in disguise. True angels know it’s not about them.

They love us and rejoice in our love, but they don’t want us to love them more than we love God.

They are creatures who are completely ordered toward the love of God and the love of his creatures. In the order of nature, they are vastly greater than we are. But because, through Christ, we fallen humans have been joined with the life of the Blessed Trinity, the glory of all true angels is that they now look up to us and are not envious.

Since the Incarnation, even a mighty archangel like Gabriel is now less than the least in the Kingdom of heaven, because by grace we have been given something the angels can only admire: participation in the divine nature by baptism.

Mark Shea is senior

content editor for catholicexchange.com