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Surrounded by Angels

September 20, 2021

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. . . ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver and honor him.’” Psalm 91:11-12, 14-15

Winston Churchill reported that during negotiations between Stalin and French Prime Minister Laval in Moscow in the spring of 1935, Stalin scornfully remarked, “The Pope!  How many divisions [of soldiers] has he got?”  Churchill didn’t report Laval’s reply, but said that he might have mentioned “a number of legions not always visible on parade.”  

Angels are invisible to us and are sometimes described as God’s army or host.[1] When surrounded on all sides by the king of Syria’s army, Elisha told his servant, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16). Elisha could see the legions of angels with them, and he prayed for God to open the servant’s eyes so that he could also see the angels and be assured.

Michaelmas, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, is celebrated in Christian churches on September 29th.[2]   This festival is a good reminder of God’s astonishing love for us: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1). Because he loves us so deeply, God uses many powerful ways to communicate with us and to protect us, including his Word and prayer, our brothers and sisters in the faith, the Holy Spirit, and angels.  Some things happen that are beyond science and have no logical explanation.[3]  But even science is pointing us toward the existence of other dimensions. Quantum reality confirms that two things can be in the same place at the same time.

Angels are God’s agents, sent by him to protect us.  God sends his angels to come to our aid in times of peril. We need protection from all kinds of accidents and natural disasters as well as from worldly forces and supernatural powers. 

In the spring of 1987, I was about five months pregnant with our third child, Michael.  I was with our two children in a room we used as their playroom, instead of its intended use as a formal living room. Julia was three and Bobby was almost two; they were playing in their “kitchen” with various plastic toy kitchen items. Julia was standing at the toy stove pretending to cook, and Bobby was seated on a small plastic chair at the table attached to the play kitchen, pretending to eat the imaginary food prepared by his sister. 

 A cabinet housing a wet bar with glass shelves over the sink had been designed by our architect and built on one wall of the room. We had never actually used it, but we filled the shelves with the liquor we brought from our condo when we moved into the house in 1984. The cabinet was usually closed, but on that spring day, it was open.  I noticed that one of the metal pins holding up the first glass shelf looked like it was going to pop out, so I fetched the little gold hammer that I used for hanging pictures, and carefully gave the pin a gentle tap.

The next thing I knew, the pin flew out, and the glass shelf crashed with all of the liquor bottles on it.  I took a step back to avoid the glass, when I heard another crash. I looked up and was shocked to see another shelf had broken and all of the bottles on it came flying out.  I yelled at Julia and Bobby to run out of the room– and they ran! They had been further away from the cabinet and got out safely.  But I couldn’t move. Shelf after shelf broke into large shards that whizzed by me as well as broken bottles.  I knew that if I moved, I would be hit by flying glass. The shards from the glass shelves were huge. 

 I buried my face in my chest and covered my head with my arms. The crashes didn’t stop, they kept coming. The bottles were exploding around me as they flew off the shelves and broke–some before hitting the ground when they hit the wet bar, and others when they hit the ground.  I felt the alcohol splash on my jeans.  I just kept praying, “Help me, Lord.  Help me.”

I kept expecting to be slashed and shredded by the broken glass at any moment.  I remember thinking that it was a certainty that I would sustain serious injuries, and that more likely than not, I would lose a lot of blood.  I didn’t think that my baby could survive such a traumatic injury to my body.  

As the bottles and shelves continued to crash around me, I felt an inner calm; there was nothing to be done but wait.  When the noise from the crashing glass stopped, I uncovered my face and looked around.  A third of the large room was covered in glass except for the small area where I was standing. I didn’t have a scratch on me.  How was that possible?  It defied explanation.  I was surrounded by broken glass, including the large shards from the glass shelves.  Had God sent an angel(s) to protect me and my baby?

But are angels real?” How do we know that they exist?  One philosopher said that scientific truth is exact but incomplete. Science is but a small part of the human organism. Where science stops, human experience continues on. And we have learned through science that there are realities beyond our ability to see them with the naked eye.  We can’t see germs without a microscope, yet no one denies their existence. In the story of Elisha’s narrow escape, the servant could not see the armies defending them until Elisha prayed that his eyes be opened. Likewise, there are many realities that we cannot perceive. 

R.C. Sproul relates that when he was in college, he discovered that the Greek word for angel, angelos, appears more often in the New Testament than the word translated as sin, or the word agape, the primary word in the New Testament for love. He realized at that time that the existence of angels must be taken seriously.[4]  Angels are part of the Biblical narrative from Genesis through Revelation. 

The fact that angels are not seen by us is does not negate their existence. Science can’t prove or disprove the existence of angels or of miracles.  We can’t see love, or any other emotion or characteristic of unique human beings, but we don’t deny their existence.  Martin Luther said, “That angels are with us is very sure, and no one should ever have doubted it.” 

A compelling argument for the existence of angels is the fact that angels are mentioned almost 300 times in both the Old and New Testaments.  In his article “The Truth About Angels,” theologian Dr. Donald Deffner says this: “From Scripture we learn angels are personal, conscious, intelligent beings.  They are complete in their spiritual nature, which requires no body. They have great knowledge. They excel in superhuman strength and can move about, unobstructed by time, space or physical laws. There are multitudes of them, legions (see Matthew 26:53.)., ‘ten thousand times ten thousand’ (see Daniel 7:10).”

The types of angels mentioned in the Bible are cherubim (great winged creatures close to God ready to carry out his commands)[5]; seraphim (winged creatures so close to God that they burn with his holy brilliance)[6]and archangels. 

Beware of non-Biblical representations of angels. First, angels are NOT recycled human beings; they are not dead humans who “earn their wings,” in heaven.  Angels are separately created beings who are above humans in the creation hierarchy.  And only cherubim and seraphim are described as winged creatures in the Bible.  All other angels, including archangels, are not described as having wings. 

The Bible only lists one archangel, Michael,[7] though there may be more.  Based on a first century Jewish book called 1 Enoch, some traditions also accept Gabriel, Raphael, and others as archangels.[8]  Archangels are the commanders of the heavenly host–the angelic army whose job is to praise, honor, and worship God. They exercise God’s will over all creation.

According to Scripture, angels carry out a variety of tasks at God’s direction. The Hebrew and Greek words for “angel” in the Bible mean “messenger.”  There are dozens of examples of angels being sent as God’s agents of divine judgment and providence. The angel Gabriel brought the most significant message in human history to the teenaged Mary, and angels also brought the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the women who came to the tomb on that first Easter morning (Luke 24: 5b-6a).

 In the New Testament, angels are largely presented as agents of God’s protection. We are assured of angelic care and protection throughout our life, and at the end of our life we will be borne up to heaven by angels: “The beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Luke 16:22).  

Even though angels are real and play a significant role in our lives and in God’s plan for the universe, they are created beings, like us. We do not worship angels.  

In Sunday’s second reading from Revelation, John reports that “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev.12:7-9).  John then heard “a loud voice from heaven say: . . . They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 12: 11). 

Michael means “who is like God,” but even Michael, the most powerful of the angels, is nothing compared to God.  Michael only had the power to conquer the dragon because of the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ.  Angels are not a core belief of the Christian church. They are not mentioned in the great statements of faith found in the Apostle’s Creed or in the Nicene Creed. 

The bottom line is that God loves us so much that he chooses to communicate with us and protect us in many ways, including through angels who largely remain invisible to us.  

When I think back on my life, I can think of several instances of protection of myself or my loved ones that defy explanation.  But we can assume that there are many more times when angels have played a part in bringing a message to us or protected us or a loved one from harm or danger.  I suspect that almost everyone can recall instances of providential rescue or other times when God sent his angels to his or her aid. 

As you go about your business this week, give thanks to God for all of the times you and your loved ones have been spared because of God’s love for you in sending his Son to die for our sins and for sending the Holy Spirit and his angels to guide and protect you. 

And be assured that God’s angels are with you this very moment and will stay with you until your life’s end, to usher you into glory.  

Prayer: “Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals. Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”    (Ed. Frederick J. Schumacher, For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church, Vol. II, p. 1356.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Psalm 103:20-21; 148:2; 1 Samuel 17:45.

[2] The alternate Scripture readings for Saint Michael and All Angels Sunday, September 26, 2021 are Daniel 10:10-14; Daniel 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; and Matthew 18: 1-11. 

[3] My thanks to Ken Frese, our retired pastor friend whose sermon, “The Case for Angels,” delivered at Palisades Lutheran Church on September 28,2020, inspired me to research and write this blog. 

[4] R.C. Sproul, Unseen RealitiesHeaven, Hell, Angels and Demons, Ligonier Ministries, p. 89.

[5] Ezekiel 1:4-14; 22-25. The cover of the ark of the covenant, where the Lord promised to be with his people, was adorned with two cherubim with outstretched wings.

[6] Isaiah 6:1-4.  Seraphim are described as winged creatures who fly above the Lord’s throne as they chant his praises. 

[7] 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Jude 9. 

[8][8] The subject of evil angels, such as Satan, is beyond the scope of this blog.

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