Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings; yet even angels, although they are stronger and more powerful, do not bring slanderous accusations against such beings in the presence of the Lord.
2 Peter 2:11
Angels are fascinating pop-culture icons.
In storytelling, they can be frightening (Gabriel, in the film The Prophecy). They can be somber, and sad (Seth in City of Angels). They can be whimsical (Gabriel again, but this time in Constantine). They can even be sarcastic and a little belligerent (‘Cash Money’ in The Family Man).
To the artist, of course, angels are the perfect, anthromorphic and mold-able subject. Their long, flowing robes and hair, their expansive feathered wings… They are much more fun to draw than demons. Demons, by contrast, have those drab ol’ bat wings, and they’re generally bald so that you can clearly see their horns. Quite boring, demons.
But what are angels, really?
Well, they are spiritual in nature. And they work for God. By virtue of this, I think, they are very beloved of those who cling to something I refer to as ‘Oprah spirituality’. While soccer-mom demagogue Oprah Winfrey is not solely responsible for this mentality, she is one of it major proponents.
‘Oprah spirituality’ gives one an illusionary peace of mind born of some vague, ephemeral belief in a ‘higher power’. It allows one to seize both false hope and vainglorious moral superiority, all the while conveniently ducking accountability and obedience to any one doctrine.
God doesn’t honor Oprah Spirituality. Oprah does, but that doesn’t make her godly.
But I digress…
One thing that we know about angels is that they are usually really, really scary. The only exception to this may be Gabriel, whom Zechariah had the gall to question, and the Virgin Mary seemed to find comforting.
They are also flagrantly zealous, too. On the occasions upon which God unleashed one to torment someone, He usually has to call him off rather vehemently. ‘ENOUGH!!! Withdraw your hand!’ I picture the hacking, slashing angel lowering his sword with a disappointment on his face, and reluctantly trudging off to find something else to do.
A myth common to Christianity is that angels are led by ‘archangels’, angelic commanders of other angels. There were once three, said the legends – Michael, who leads the angels called as warriors, or killers, Gabriel the messenger, and Lucifer.
However, Scripture only actually uses the word ‘archangel’ in reference to Michael. Elsewhere it uses the phrase ‘with the voice of the archangel’ – which may imply that there is only one, which would be Michael. However, it doesn’t say that there’s only one; it may just be referring to the archangel present in that particular situation.
Gabriel is mentioned by name on several occasions. His first appearance (at least in which he is mentioned by name) comes in the Old Testament, when he explains – upon God’s order – a vision to the prophet Daniel. He also appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
Of course, we know him best as the angel who spoke these legendary words: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Michael is mentioned less often, and in less detail. He ‘disputed with the Devil over the body of Moses’, whatever that may have entailed. He also led the battle against ‘the dragon’ during a ‘war in Heaven’, which could mean that he fought Lucifer when Lucifer rebelled against God. (However, I don’t know that. That passage is in the Book of Revelation, the greatest mystery of the Bible. Any man who says that he does know what Revelation is talking about is a liar. We all have a theory, but no one knows for sure. Even John, its author, didn’t try to make head nor tails of it. He just recorded what he was told to.)
Then there’s Lucifer.
Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets of all time, wrote regarding Lucifer: ‘How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners? All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house. But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.’
I don’t know what that means, exactly. Was Lucifer just a Joe Schmoe angel? Or did he, since Isaiah refers to him as ‘Son of the Morning’, hold some sort of special favor with God? It would seem so, and perhaps Lucifer – much like a spoiled child – chose to rebel to gain even more than that with which he was already blessed. Or maybe I’m reading more into that passage than Isaiah really meant.
Was Lucifer perhaps just a man, much like Adam in his Garden of Eden, and not an angel at all? I wonder if he didn’t desire to be like an angel, coveting an ‘ascent into Heaven’ like Isaiah wrote. I wonder if his world wasn’t flooded with water like ours was in Genesis, which would explain why, ‘In the Beginning’, the Spirit moved across the face of the waters. I wonder if Lucifer’s world of eons past wasn’t just flat-out destroyed for his sin, for his leading even of angels astray, while Adam and his world were made with the foreknowledge of Adam’s sin and Christ’s redemption – for Adam, after all, didn’t invent sin. He was just seduced by it.
All theory. I don’t know. Nobody does.
To further muddy the waters, the name ‘Lucifer’ does not appear in Isaiah’s writings. Jerome added the Italian name to the text in order to differentiate the ‘son of the morning’ (who was clearly an evil entity) from the ‘Son of Man’ (a name for Christ).
One thing is for certain, Lucifer, son of the morning – whoever he was – is now dead and gone. His name was probably granted by God himself, and I am guessing that he probably rejected the moniker. We know him now as Satan, which is from the ancient Hebrew word for ‘adversary’. His first biblical appearance may have been in the Garden of Eden, when he tempted Eve into sin. Or not… perhaps the snake was just that, a snake, and he himself listened to Satan’s temptation.
Satan is known by many names, much like Christ, whom he hates. Apollyon, Beelzebub, Belial, Lord of this World, Son of Perdition… But generally, we just call him ‘the Devil’.
One thing that makes me unsure about whether Satan is a fallen angel or an ascended mortal is his manifested nature. He displays many characteristics unique to celestial beings, but yet he displays many weaknesses common to men.
For instance, Satan is fairly omniscient. He, like God, knows the hearts of all men. That’s how he tempts us, whispering things in our innermost natures that appeal to our various unspoken depravities. His omnipresence is part of what makes him so dangerous.
Yet for all his power, he seems flat-out shortsighted and more than a little stupid sometimes. For instance, unlike God, he cannot see the future. Nor is he bright enough, apparently, to see that God plays him like a fiddle. To wit: God clearly used Satan – and those he influenced – to facilitate the crucifixion of Christ, thereby bringing salvation to all who accept it. Yet Satan apparently had no clue that this may have been the case. He cheerfully watched the Messiah die, thinking in his childish vanity that he’d won his war with the Almighty.
Satan’s influence is apparently limited; he had to ask God for explicit permission to torment Job. Also, even now, God allows Satan to torment those ‘dis-fellowshipped’ from His church to teach them a lesson, to help lead them away from sin and back to the fold – but He must allow it.
For all I don’t know about Satan, though, I do know one thing: He is the alternative to God, just as good is the alternative to evil, and because we could have chosen him, we have the knowledge that we have instead chosen God. Free will, after all, is the divine characteristic by which we choose salvation. Of course, as the rock band Rush put it, ‘if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice’ – which is the unfortunate-if-passive decision that most of the world makes.
However, while Satan – inasmuch as he represents the cause of Evil – is the opposite of God, he is not His equal. In regards to who and what he is, I agree with C. S. Lewis’ opinion: that Satan is not the equivalent to God, but instead a corrupted version of Michael – an angel (or some other created being) gone bad.
Most theologians paint angels as ‘neutered’ beings, mere creatures of service with no real gender. I passionately disagree, although I have no solid ground whatsoever to base my assertion, save my own idle ponderings.
In Genesis, Moses writes (regarding Adam and Eve) that ‘male and female he created them’. Most of us, I think, take for granted that this was the first time that the idea of gender – not the anatomical man and woman, but the roles associated therewith – occurred to God.
While only God knows for sure, I disagree. I think the concept is as old as God himself, and inherently intrinsic to beings of any sort. God, for instance, portrays characteristics of both. While the strong, occasionally-vengeful God of the Old Testament is indisputably masculine (if not male, per se), Jesus said ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ Which to me, reveals a nurturing, loving side to God that could be interpreted as distinctly feminine.
I think angels – while most likely not ‘anatomically correct’ – reflect their Creator’s nature, in regards to their assigned gender roles. But I think that angels, unlike God, were made in one ‘gender’ or the other, whereas God Himself reflects both sides of the spectrum.
For instance, Michael, Gabriel, and Lucifer (if indeed he was an angel) are indisputably male, as divinely-inspired Prophets and Apostles refer to them as ‘He’. However, Scripture also refers to angels whose job it is to guard and protect us – and it my firm belief that such beings are female, as this strikes me as the sacred duty of a nurturer, a mother of sorts. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, an angel appeared and ‘strengthened him’. This also seems a motherly sort of thing to me.
On the other hand, we often see angels used as the agents of vengeance. This would, to me, seem a role fitting for a male. I just can’t see a woman – unless maybe it was Lizzie Borden – gleefully hacking her way through Egypt, doing in all the firstborn.
But virtually all of these points are merely my pondering, pointless speculation, and I – like all men – must never forget this. Peripheral curiosities should never distract us from the most important facets of doctrine – lest we, like the Pharisees of days past – ‘strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel’.
We aren’t told much about angels because angels matter not whit regarding our salvation. What is explained to us in great length, however, is God and Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Angels are amusing to wonder about, to attempt to understand. But it’s okay if we don’t figure out one daggone thing that’s worth knowing about them.
Where we absolutely cannot make such a mistake is in coming into an understanding of the God whom the angels serve. Pondering is just that, pondering…. But we should never ponder at the expense of learning!
Even Gabriel himself, I am certain, would tell you that.