Richard Dawkins author of ‘The God Delusion’ would have us believe Britain is becoming a more secular society. But evidence proves he is wrong.
It is true that the proportion of the population who identify themselves as having no religion has increased to 48.5% in 2014, up from 25% in 2009.
But at the same time as people are turning their backs on traditional forms of religion, interest in what may be termed ‘spirituality’ is increasing. People are more likely now to say they are spiritual than religious. Decline in traditional church attendance, doesn’t necessarily equate to decline in belief.
For example research published by Christian think tank Theos in 2013, found that 59% of people believed in some kind of spiritual being or essence.
One example of this is belief in angels.
Study by MORI 1998 31% of all adults in GB believed in guardian angels, in 2009 this had risen to 46%, although other surveys indicate this figure is much higher.
Robbie Williams ‘Angels’ one of most frequently requested songs at funeral.
Quick search on internet brings up thousands of pages devoted to angels, there are endless books which instruct people on how to contact ‘their’ angel, and lots of stories of apparent encounters with angels, but most of this is from a non-Christian perspective.
I’ve not knowingly encountered an angel (unless you count my wife!), although the author of Hebrews writes, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ (Heb 13:2)
I have however, met people who have claimed to have seen angels, and there are lots of stories about encounters with angels.
For example, John Paton, who was born in Dumfries, went to serve as a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands in the Pacific.
One night the house he was staying in was surrounded by hostile natives, intent on killing John and his wife. John and his wife prayed during that night that God would deliver them. When daylight came they were amazed to see their attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, John asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men with you there?" John answered, "There were no men there; just my wife and I." But the chief argued that they had seen many men standing guard - hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords in their hands. It appeared that God had sent his angels to protect John & his wife.
Encounters with Angels in the Bible
Angels figure a lot in the Bible – and are referred to between 294-305 times (depending on the translation of the Bible).
Image of Angels
Ask anyone what an angel looks like, we think either of chubby little flying cherubs, children dressed up in white robes with tinsel around their head, or majestic winged creatures. We have very few descriptions in the Bible of what angels actually look like, but one of the common responses we find in Scripture when people encounter angels is one of fear.
Archangel Gabriel & Mary & the shepherds & the women at the tomb “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30, 2:10, Matthew 28:5)
In Gospel of Matthew we read:
An angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2-4)
Fear may be an understandable reaction to seeing something as extraordinary as an angel.
Moses’ face shone as a result of being in the presence of God, so much so that the Bible says ‘When… the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.’ (Ex 34:30)
If that was the reaction with Moses, no wonder the reaction is even greater when people encounter angels, who stand in the very presence of God, and reflect His light & radiance.
What are angels?
- Created beings
Angels are spiritual beings, but also created.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:16 “For by him [Jesus] were all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible.” This includes angels.
Psalm 148:1,5 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts... 5 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created,
Angels are God’s servants.
Word angel – comes from Greek word aggelos, meaning ‘messenger’.
They come to declare or announce God’s will.
Angel – appearing to Gideon “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” Judges 6:12
Angel appeared to Mary to tell her she was going to give birth to a son.
Angel who told Philip where to go in his travels so that he could meet the Ethiopian eunuch and lead him to Christ. (Acts 8:26)
The book of Hebrews calls angels “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14) We see in Scripture how God uses angels to minister to his people.
After Jesus tempted in wilderness, says the angels came and attended him (Mt 4:11)
In 1944, the penniless wife of a pastor and evangelist in Switzerland, Susie Ware prayed, “God, I need five pounds of potatoes, two pounds of pastry flour, apples, pears, a cauliflower, carrots, veal cutlets for Saturday, and beef for Sunday.” A few hours later, someone knocked on the door, and there was a young man carrying a basket, who said, “Mrs. Ware, I am bringing what you asked for.” It was precisely what she’d prayed for–down to the exact brand of pastry flour she wanted. The young man slipped away, and even though Rev. and Mrs. Ware watched at the window to their building, the man never exited. He just disappeared.
An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and instructed him to take Mary as his wife and to name her baby Jesus. (Matthew 1:20-21)
When Paul and his shipmates were caught in a horrible storm and faced shipwreck, an angel appeared to him, assured him that not a life would be lost, and that he would live to stand trial before Caesar. (Acts 27:23)
Daniel 6 tells the story of how an angel shut the mouths of the lions when he was thrown into their den.
Main activity of angels is worshiping God.
Revelation 7:11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God.
Real angels always serve & point to God, but the danger in our society is that rather than looking to Jesus for a real spiritual encounter, people increasingly look to angels, as illustrated by the huge range of books and seminars that are available on the topic of angels. But when people start trying to pray to angels, or worship them or seeking guidance or special knowledge from angels, that is where danger lies, because we can end up being deceived & led astray. The Bible event tells us that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).
Jesus the Fulfilment of all our longings
A sign exists to point the direction, a street lamp exists to illuminate the path, they are not intended to be objects of fascination in their own right.
Angels exist to serve & glorify Jesus. They point to him. A genuine encounter with a holy angel will always glorify God, not the angel, and they will never contradict what we know of God in the Bible. Therefore our focus shouldn’t just be on angels, but on Jesus.
The author of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus Christ is greater than the angels.
‘By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says! After he finished the sacrifice for sins, the Son took his honoured place high in the heavens right alongside God, far higher than any angel in rank and rule.’ (Hebrews 1:2-4 The Message)
It is not angels that answer our prayers, it is God. It is not angels that protect us, it is God, when angels proclaim an important message it is not their own words, but God’s. Therefore angels shouldn’t be our object of devotion, Jesus should.
To worship angels rather than God is like buying a cheap imitation of a Van Goff painting done be a child - it is not the real thing and never can be.
St Augustine said, ‘My soul is restless until it finds its rest I thee.’ There is only one person who can satisfy that deep need for longing, identity, acceptance, sense of significance, love and forgiveness that every person craves, and that is Jesus.