Monday, July 15, 2013

Angels, What are they?

[He] makes His angels spirits, 
His ministers a flame of fire.
Psalm 104:4

       A few months ago I had an interesting discussion. An acquaintance of mine had posted a question on an online forum I am a member of (actually it was a series of questions). The basic gist of his post was to inquire what angels did, and how the fall of angels affects our salvation, and how the fact that we have salvation while the angels don’t is just. What follows is a cleaned-up and edited version of my side of the conversation. I am posting this here because angels are a confusing topic for many, myself included, and straightforward answers that admit their failures are rare and helpful.

            The first few questions dealt mainly with what angels actually are, and how their nature plays into the fall of the angels and their lack of ability to be redeemed.

       Angels have free will, but all angels are not descended from Satan, so all angels did not fall. Angels also have no hope of redemption, as they already (figuratively) had eaten from both trees in the garden - the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life (they didn't actually eat the fruit, but they were created as if they did).
       When Christ explains salvation, he says that one must be born of “water and of the Spirit.” Since Angels are created immortal, they can’t be born of water, and since they are spirit, they can’t be reborn in the Spirit. Angels also are shown to have special knowledge as we see them as messengers throughout the old and new testaments, so their knowledge also condemns them as they have complete knowledge of what they are rejecting and where they are choosing to go.
       It is also worth noting here that angels are not created in the image of God, as humans are. Why angels are metaphysical (mostly spirit) people are physical, spiritual and have souls. Their multi-faceted nature comes into play when considering redemption.

If God knew Angels would fall, why did He create them with free will?

       God (God here refers to the godhead, not just God the Father) created angels with free will for the same reason that he created humans with free will; if you build a robot and program it to worship you, it doesn't mean very much. God is completely self-sufficient, and he needs neither humans nor angels to keep him "happy." However, He created angels, heaven, earth, humans, animals and even Hell to bring glory to Himself. Even though He did not need any of those things to survive, thrive or give Him a purpose, He still allows us the opportunity to live in communion with Him forever.

What do angels do and why do they do it?

       Angels have several primary purposes: to worship God (as seen throughout all of scripture, specifically in the Pentateuch and Revelation); to act as messengers (the word angel comes from the Greek "angelos" which means messenger, think the announcement of Christ’s birth). I have also heard quite a few times that angels serve as Spiritual Guardians.  While there is some merit to this, as Angels are shown to be immensely powerful beings and do perform tasks set before them by God, I do not see in Scripture a solid basis for a personal guardian angel.
       Angels do have a stated hierarchy, with different physical manifestations associated with each. (Cherubim, Seraphim and Archangels are among the upper echelons).  This has more to do with their roles than their power.
       Why? Think how little we know about God, and how awesome He is to us. Now imagine spending an eternity with Him, learning about all the facets of His nature, and barely scratching the surface. I probably would sing in awe the entire time, too.  
       We don't know much. There are few passages in Scripture that deal with the characteristics of angels. But yes, they sing, yes they have names, yes they interact with people and yes, they do this with joy because they genuinely love God and His nature.

When did Satan rebel against God?

       Isaiah 14:12-21 is the only passage in scripture dealing with the fall of Satan, and there isn’t even consensus in the theological community if that is dealing with Satan, or merely a pagan king. It isn't much to go on; we know why he fell, and where he fell, too, but there is nothing ANYWHERE in Scripture that says when he fell, except where logic dictates that he must have fallen after the sixth day when God saw His creation and saw that it was “very good” and before Eve was tempted in the garden.

If Satan wasn't created or didn't rebel against God, would Adam/Eve still sin?

       Here are hypothetical questions, but, the answer is Satan did rebel, time is a straight line (from a human perspective) there are no alternate realities. Satan was created, he did rebel, and he did tempt Eve, and Eve succumbed to the temptation, and subsequently Adam fell as well. Any "what-ifs" are pure hypotheticals, the real question is why would you want to know the answer to the "what-if?" Curiosity never hurt anyone (except for the cat it killed), but answering a question that there is no factual basis to go on is certainly quite dangerous.

Since Satan's act of rebelling against God was a sin, who then committed the first sin? Did sin originate from Adam/Eve or Satan? Whose "fault" was it?

       This is an interesting question. It is also a question that assumes that Angels and humans have the same laws and consequences. But they don’t. Since angels are not of the same nature as humans, the rules and even physical laws of the world in which we live don’t apply to them in the same way. Satan made the first sin among angels, while Adam and Eve made the first sin among the earthly creation.
       The major difference between the two (and the main reason I believe that angels have no hope of redemption) is that angels sinned with full knowledge of their sin, and they didn't have a genetic (for lack of a better word) predisposition to sin. While men are completely responsible for their own sin, we also don't have a choice in whether or not we sin. We have redemption ex post facto, while angels have the opportunity to remain sinless.

       Scripture is not clear on the nature of angels. They show up at important points and then vanish. Most of what we know about angels comes from passages not directly to angels, when they are doing something, or when they are referred to in passing. Much of the information that is in Scripture (which isn't a lot) has become mixed with fantasy, tradition, and just plain fiction in order to clear some of the "gaps" in the nature of angels.
       I think that we need to be extremely careful in conjecture in areas that are intentionally left vague in scripture. Quickly we can drift into areas that have no root in scripture at all. Ideas like turning into angels after death, child angels, cupids etc. are not necessarily bad, until we start postulating them as fact. I would keep that in mind as we delve into the vague glances at angels.

      You may have noticed that there is very little Scripture referenced in this article. That is because any verses that I would quote would likely be shorter than a sentence. Angels are not talked about a lot in the Scriptures and not in large passages like we would find on virtues or the nature of God. I did my best to avoid conjecture in this article, however, and I can pull precedent out of scripture if needed. I would be gratified if you would leave a comment or shoot an email to if you have any concerns with any specifics of any of my points. I am not claiming to be an expert in this matter; anyone who does is either a liar or grossly misinformed.

Leaping Lizard


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