Angels by Peter Kreeft
Popular books on angels are now suddenly very fashionable (though serious religious and theological books are not). This is clearly because "nature abhors a vacuum" spiritually as well as physically. Pop spirituality rushes in to fill a religious need. And in the devotional lives of many ordinary Christians there can be no doubt that belief in angels has grown cold. Why is that? There seem to be several reasons. To many, such belief seems a distraction from the central fact of revelation-the victory of Christ over sin and death. And not a few associate devotion to angels with superstition, , fanaticism and that standard example of vain theological dispute: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? (Or is it: How many pins can stick in the head of an angel?) We do not intend to argue directly against this trend. We wish merely to note it-and to note that Jesus and his disciples shared a different view.
So in this section we state, briefly and simply, the traditional Christian teaching on angels, and suggest why a strong belief in them can help both our devotion to Christ and our understanding of the world he redeemed.
What Are Angels? Angels are finite spirits (Col 1:16; Heb 1:14). Their very name (Greek: angelos) denotes the function Scripture most often describes them as serving-heavenly messengers. They far exceed humans in power and intelligence (1 Pet 1:12; 2 Pet 2:11), and have a will capable of disobedience (Jude 6). It follows that angels are personal beings; Scripture even tells us the names of some-for example, Gabriel (Dan 8:16) and Michael (Dan 10:13, 21). Since angels are spirits, they have no flesh or bones (Lk 24:39) and are naturally invisible (Num. 22:31). They do not marry and reproduce (Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25), nor do they die (Lk 20:36). They seem to be organized in a hierarchy that includes archangels (Jude 9), principalities and powers (Eph 3:10). There are also cherubim and seraphim (Gen 3:22-24; Is 6:1-3; cf. Rev 4 and 5), whose function it is to praise and worship God and to guard his holiness. Some angels are described as having power over the forces of nature, a power exercised in order to chastise God's enemies or guard his elect (cf. Gen 19:1-13; 2 Sam 24:15-16; 2 Kings 19:35). Among guardian angels there are those who watch over individuals (Mt 18:10; Heb 1:14) and those assigned to watch over whole nations (Dan 10-12). Not all angels are good. Some have turned their wills against God, and therefore against his truth and goodness. These evil spirits are called demons. Like good angels, demons seem to be organized in ranks (Eph 6:11-12). 12). They do the bidding of Satan, the prince of demons and the prince of this world (Mt 12:22-24; Jn 12:31). These ranks of demons war against the will of God (Rev 16:12-16). They use their great intelligence to deceive and discourage individuals (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Thess 2:18; Eph 6:11-12; 1 Tim 4:1); they use their influence over the nations to lead them disastrously astray (Rev 20:3); and they use their power over the forces of nature to inflict pestilence and disease (see Mt 9:32-33). But Satan and his legions can succeed only in minor skirmishes; the war has already been won. Through Christ's death and resurrection the world of Satan's dominion has been overcome (1 Jn 5:4-5) and its bitter fruit of sin and death definitively vanquished (1 Cor 15:50-57). God even uses demonic assaults to accomplish his purposes (1 Sam 16:14-23). And on the last day, Satan and the other evil spirits will be cast into everlasting fire (Mt 25:31-46).
Do Angels Exist? 1. A look at any Bible concordance reveals how intimately belief in angels is woven into the fabric of Scripture. It is clearly and constantly taught throughout Scripture that God works through these spiritual intermediaries. Expunge them as inessential and you seem to be left with a document in tatters.
2. Belief in angels was not universal in Jesus' day. The Sadducees, for example, disbelieved in angels as well as the resurrection. While siding against the Sadducees on the resurrection, Jesus went out of his way to side against them on the reality of angels as well (see Mk 12:25). His teaching about angels was unprecedented in the ancient world; he said "these little ones"-that is, children, and perhaps the uneducated-have angels who "continually see the face of my Father in heaven" (Mt 18:10). No Jew had ever taught that angels behold the face of God-even the seraphim must shield their eyes from his glory (Is 6:2). If angels do not exist, then Jesus was wrong when he taught these things. And if he was wrong, then he was not a fully trustworthy teacher. Is any Christian ready to believe that? 3. It is not only Christians, Jews and Muslims who believe in angels. Pagans have believed in them as well. Aristotle, for example, argued that there are immaterial beings responsible for the motion of the heavens (see Metaphysics 12:8), and Plotinus said that there are "guardian spirits" (see Enneads 3:4). Why has it seemed to so many, whatever their religious convictions (or lack of them), that the class of intelligent beings is not exhausted by us humans: that there ought to exist intelligences "other" and "higher" than our own? Benedict Ashley has provided an impressive answer. [It is] uncomfortable to the modern mind ... to suppose that we human beings are the only intelligences in the universe. To understand this discomfort, which has resulted in the proliferation of science fiction fantasies about life in other worlds and in perfectly serious efforts of scientists to communicate with other humanoids, we should note that one of the modes of creative thinking that has paid off richly in science, although of course it always requires testing against the evidence, is extrapolation or pattern thinking. For example, Mendelejeffs periodic table was based on symmetrical arrangement of known elements according to their properties, but it contained blanks. Eventually it was possible to fill in these blanks by the discovery of new elements. Again, the table of possible kinds of crystalline structures was first worked out mathematically from known types and the blanks were eventually all filled in by new discoveries. Our evolutionary view of the world presents us with a great variety of kinds of primary units from atoms to the most complex of living forms. We are always looking for "missing links" to complete this pattern. Whenever we find a new type of living thing we immediately suspect that we will soon discover that it has "radiated" in a number of genera and species adapted to the various possible environmental niches. Therefore, when we discover that in our visible universe there is a type of organism, the human species, which introduces a wholly new principle of behavior, namely abstract, symbolically expressed, creative thought, we naturally conjecture that the very limited exemplification of this type of life found only in the single human species cannot be the only one. If we also accept that the world has been created by a God who is an infinite intelligence, we are even more struck by the immense gap that lies between these two extremes of mental power, the human and the divine. Undoubtedly this gap must still puzzle us today, just as it puzzled ancient people the world over, and even more so because we have greater awareness both of the wonderful scale of natural forms and of the vast differences between the human beings who have attained to scientific understanding and technological control of the world and the other animals. (Theologies of the Body, chap. 13)
Why Is It Important to Believe in Angels? Those engaged in war need to know who their enemy is. It is folly to move forward into battle ignorant of what you will face there, oblivious to the strength of the troops arrayed against you, without a true assessment of the forces you have with you to meet the advancing threat. That seems obvious; simple common sense. But remember that right now-even as you read-all all of us on earth are in the midst of a spiritual war. Christians know that victory is theirs in Christ, but they must still engage the enemy in combat. What enemy? Scripture is bracingly clear: Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph 6:11-16) Part of the armor God gives us is the knowledge that we struggle against a more-than-human enemy, and are helped by more-than-human allies. The demons and the angels are here surrounding us, moving swiftly on the field of battle. There is no possible advantage in pretending otherwise.
Kindle Edition. Peter Kreeft;Ronald K. Tacelli. Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Kindle Locations 1306-1307). Kindle Edition.