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Midwest Today, December 1994


image of an angel


Speculation about these Celestial Beings
has gone on for centuries, but in a torn
and troubled world, they are the focus of
a renewed interest


Do angels exist? If you accept the Bible as being the inspired Word of God, the answer has to be an emphatic "yes." Angels are mentioned directly or indirectly in the Old and New Testaments nearly 300 times.

But what about the current cult of angels - angel mania, if you will - wherein these Celestial Beings are the objects of veneration?

Angels are being talked about everywhere these days, and not just because it's Christmas. Books about guardian angels, letters about angels, personal testimony about supposed encounters with angels have dominated the best-seller list. There are those who claim to be able to help you get in touch with your "inner angel." The Angel Collectors Club exchanges information on everything from angel cookie jars and postage stamps to - you guessed it - angelfood cake recipes. Joyce Berg, 63, whose home in Beloit, Wis., is filled with 10,455 angel artifacts, greets visitors to her home in wings, halo and homemade silver angel dress. The "Philangeli" Catholic prayer group in Arlington Heights, Ill. studies angels. Angels of the World in Indianapolis, Ind. holds round-robins, a convention and puts out a newsletter.

And that jingle you hear this Christmas isn't Santa's sleigh bells but the sound of cash registers ringing up sales of angel books, calendars, pins, T-shirts, watches and dolls - even a new "Angel" perfume.

Minneapolis-based Rev. Billy Graham probably did the most to start the modern infatuation with the subject when he wrote his best-seller a few years ago entitled "Angels: God's Secret Agents." The evangelist mixed dramatic stories of people's alleged real-hfe encounters with angels along with solid Biblical scholarship.

Since then, numerous other works have been published that are less theologically oriented. As Graham himself cautions, "Don't believe everything you hear (and read!) about angels." Critics say most of these books present merely the fanciful imaginings of unqualified pseudo-experts and lack a Scriptural context. Indeed, the tomes are replete with declarative statements about the nature of angelic beings, so much so that one yearns to ask the authors: HOW DO YOU KNOW?

In these missives, angels are all fluff and meringue, kind, nonjudgmental - and available to everyone, like aspirin.

"Most people think of angels as benign, pleasant and helping," observes University of Wisconsin psychiatrist Richard Thurrell. "And it's nice to have comfort in a cruel world."

As for the true nature of angels, Billy Graham was quoted in a Midwest Today profile [Dec. 1992] as explaining, "Angels belong to a uniquely different dimension of creation we can scarcely comprehend. He has given angels higher knowledge, power and mobility than we. They are God's messengers [and] ministering spirits, whose chief business is to carry out His orders in the world. He has given them an ambassadorial charge. He has designated and empowered them as holy deputies. Angels speak. They appear and reappear. They are emotional creatures..."

To the ancient Israelites, angels were proud members of God's court, fierce captains of a Heavenly army who defended nations, delivered powerful messages and sang God's praises. In dealing with humankind, they could be harsh as well as kind, judgmental as well as supportive. Above all, their duty is to do God's will, not men's, as signified by the "el" (Hebrew for Lord) in the names of angels identified in the Scriptures: Michael (who is like God), Gabriel (God is my strength) and Raphael (God has healed).

In Genesis they guard the east gates of Eden with flashing swords; in Ezekiel they overpower the prophet with awesome visions; in Revelation they battle a dragon.

It was an angel who admonished Abraham to spare his son from sacrifice, who saved Daniel from the lion's den and rolled away the stone from Christ's tomb.

At Christmastime, of course, we treasure the retelling of one of the most thrilling, transcendent and majestic pictures of angelic visitation, as described in Luke: While the shepherds were watching their flock by night, an angel of the Lord came upon them and told them that in the city of David a Savior had been born. Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host singing praises to God. Imagine the night sky lit up with this glorious, astonishing sight.

Time and again in the Biblical accounts, the presence of angels was frightening to men, but unless they came in judgment, the angels spoke words of reassurance. They also often sounded a note of urgency in issuing terse commands, as when an angel awoke Peter and said "Rise quickly."

Intriguingly, angels appear not to be commissioned to preach the gospel, although it is written that they rejoice in the salvation of sinners. The Bible also guarantees every believer an escorted journey by the holy angels into the presence of God at the time of death.

Throughout the ages, angels have been a popular subject for artists. In the fourth

Century, painters gave them wings and halos so they wouldn't be confused with mortals. Botticelli and Rembrandt made their angels plump and rosy. They have often been depicted sounding trumpets or strumming harps.

Actually, there is little positive Scriptural authority for the popular conception of the angelic form as endowed with wings. The angels of the Bible, who visited men, seem to have appeared in the human form, and were often accepted and entertained as men until, through the utterance of some remarkable prophecy or the manifestation of some supernatural quality, their spiritual nature was disclosed. The fact that they were "messengers" of God, may have supplied the basis for the idea that they have wings as a means of swift and ethereal progression. The winged cherubim and seraphim seem to belong to a higher order of celestial beings than those designated "angels," since they are always represented as standing in the immediate presence of God in Heaven or guarding of his dwelling-place on Earth.

The golden cherubim watching over the mercy-seat in the ark of the covenant were four-winged. So were those mighty figures under whose outstretched pinions the ark was placed in Solomon's temple. Four-winged were the "living creatures" of Ezekiel's dream, "who every one went straight forward whither the spirit was to go." Six-winged were the seraphim of Isaiah's vision, who stood above the "Throne of the Lord," crying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts" - almost the same song which later the four-winged "beasts" of Revelation cried day and night before the Throne.

Although most of those who claim they have seen angels are devout churchgoers, heavenly visitors also have high appeal among people who have moved away from organized religion. Speculates John Wester Anderson, author of "Where Angels Walk," "Angels may be a way of putting a foot back into spiritual life without making a commitment. There's no dogma, nothing punishing. Angels are purely good news."

Dr. Graham comments, "The great majority of Christians can recall some incident in which their lives, in times of critical danger, have been miraculously preserved - an almost plane crash, a near car wreck, a fierce temptation. Though they may have seen no angels. Their presence could explain why tragedy was averted. Evidence from Scripture, as well as personal experience," he insists, "confirms to us that individual guardian, guiding angels attend at least some of our ways and hover protectively over our lives."

Those who have angel stories to tell relate how, invariably, angels come to the rescue in times of crisis, then disappear just as abruptly. The experience is usually so affecting that the individual's religious faith is dramatically strengthened.

To visit a nice Angel site on the WWW go see "Angels on the Net"

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