Do you believe in angels. I did. When I was a kid, I had my very own guardian angel, and I’ll bet you did, too. I didn’t know her name, but I figured she’d tell me in due time. She followed me everywhere and I know she protected me from run-away cars and falling trees and school bullies. I was her full-time job.
Then I got too old; about third grade, I guess, and I began reading about angels. The stories were Disney-like, in every language and culture and country. Since I was Catholic and read Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the birth of Jesus, the two archangels, Michael and Gabriel were at the top of my list. But then I discovered hundreds of angels, Jewish, Arabic, Christian, and, get this, most of them had names that ended in “el” — Rikbiel, Sachiel, Sahquiel, Sabriel, Samuel, etc.
It didn’t take too long for me to discover that “el” in Hebrew and Aramaic and Arabic means “God.” The word “angel” means messenger; they were messengers of God. Every time a biblical author wanted to indicate God’s presence or power, he’d write in an angel, and the angel would do God’s work. Matthew references this when he has Jesus talking about the guardian angels of the children in front of him: “See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10).
Then somebody (tradition says it was John) wrote that wild book we call Revelation, “the strangest and most controversial book of the Bible.” It’s the last book in our Bible and it’s preceded by the short, but equally wild letter of Jude. This is where we see “bad angels” fighting with “good angels” and losing. Jude tells us they must wait “with eternal chains in darkness for the judgment day.” (Jude 1:6) Then we move on to chapter 12 of Revelation where the author describes in detail the war between Michael and his good angels and Satan and his bad angels. At the end of the battle, all the bad angels are thrown out of heaven with this threat:
“Woe to you, earth and sea,
For the devil has come down to you with great fury
Because he knows he has a short time”
If you want to believe that our world is populated with angels and demons who slug it out invisibly in front of us, you’ll want to keep your biblical bookmark in Jude and Revelation. But you will soon come to realize, if you continue to read Revelation to the end of chapter 22, that the “judgment day” was supposed to come when the book was written: “Look, I am coming quickly” (Rev.22:7) And that was over 2,000 years ago.
Now, I know many pastors and imams can spin these passages in a marvelous and meaningful way. And Catholic, Protestant and Islamic traditions continue to teach their people to “talk to their angels.” Just last month, Pope Francis spent his whole homily at Mass urging us “to listen to our Guardian angel, and to follow his advice.”
With all due respect, Your Holiness, when I listened to your words, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and sighed, “Whatever.”
Bill Cummings latest book “Oh My God” can be purchased on amazon.com.