Humans and Angels
Speaking of God, John Milton said: “…his state is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest…” (Sonnet On His Blindness)
Milton’s picture of heaven conjures images of angels flying hither and thither on divine errands, moving at unimaginable speeds wherever the Holy One commands, anxious to do God’s bidding. We get much the same picture from Isaiah’s vision in the temple. God is enthroned “high and lifted up,” seated in divine majesty, overwhelming the temple and Isaiah with sight, sound, and presence. Hovering around the Lord of hosts are the seraphim, the highest order of angels. We sense constant motion. These divine creatures are there to praise God unceasingly, and to perform whatever tasks God commands. We are overwhelmed by the awesomeness of God, the majesty of God. Here is a King who can command seemingly limitless messengers to fulfill God’s least instruction.
I think angels fascinate us because we don’t know quite how to take them. How do we relate to beings so powerful and mobile, whose only functions are to praise and obey? We speak fondly of our guardian angels. We know they exist—if they exist—not because we desire or deserve them, but because God wills them. We respect them for what they do for us, but we know we have no power over them.
A few months ago I discovered a piece of paper in my files entitled, “Scraps.” That’s the only identification I have. There is no hint as to what they are scraps of, or whose scraps they are. Yet the statements are so powerful that they command my attention. One is about angels.
“The angels,” he said, “have no senses; their experience is purely intellectual and spiritual. That is why we know something about God which they don’t. There are particular aspects of His love and joy which can be communicated to a created being only by sensuous experience. Something of God which the Seraphim can never quite understand flows into us from the blue of the sky, the taste of honey, the delicious embrace of water whether cold or hot, and even from sleep itself.”
Several years ago Hollywood made a movie called Michael. The archangel comes from heaven to bring two young people together—sort of a guardian angel idea, the kind of thing we like to think of angels doing—even as we know it’s got to be somewhere well below God’s list of important world affairs to influence.
Michael is played, unlikely as it may sound, by John Travolta. He has been given a task which he must complete, but he cannot take part in the joys of earth. He doesn’t sleep. While the person he is interacting with spends the night in peaceful slumber, he stands—watching, waiting—in the corner of the room. Throughout the movie there is a clear disconnect between the angel and humans. Neither can truly experience the other’s world.
In Psalm 8, David says to God, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them…? You have made them a little lower than the angels…” A little lower than the angels perhaps in some things, but significantly more important than angels in others. Human beings, not angels are the crown of God’s creation. This world in all its beauty was created for human beings to enjoy, not angels. God sent Jesus to this world to reconcile human beings, not angels. Of course, we might argue that, apart from Satan and his fallen angels the heavenly beings don’t need reconciling, but I think that misses the point.
God loves humankind enough to create a world—a universe—for our pleasure and use. God gives us gifts and blessings that overwhelm us with their generosity. No angel can say that.