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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology I: Angels are Dead People

In a previous post, I spent some time contemplating the things of heaven and trying, however haltingly, to point out how very ill-equipped the best of us is to fully comprehend them, even with the aid of the imagery of scripture, since “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

That said, there are many, MANY things that we can be very sure heaven is not.

The lack of specificity and detail about many heavenly things is not a license to manufacture any old view of heaven wholesale. Let’s address a common myth or two — and I promise not to make any of this up:

Myth #1: Angels are Dead People
“Your angels and deceased loved ones truly are around and want you to know you are not alone. Many times they are communicating to you with feelings, messages and signs that you may not [sic] picking up on.

One of the very best ways for you to know these wonderful celestial beings are around you is to ask for them to come to you in a dream. However, make sure to tell them to wake you up after the dream so that you will remember it.”
This is actually a common error, and the above rather moderate.

But where to even start! This is not a teaching that comes from the word of God, to be sure. The only passage of scripture I can remotely imagine might foster such sentimental delusion is what the Lord Jesus stated with respect to little children, that “in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

But surely this is not the obvious meaning of the Lord’s words, for he spoke them about a child who was very much alive and right in front of him, not about the dead.

May I suggest that instead of concocting our own wish-fulfilling angel-ology out of next to nothing, it might produce greater clarity to look to other passages of scripture that give insight on the nature of angels.

If we want to know what angels are, let’s ask the writer to the Hebrews, who says “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”, a passage that seems to suggest that “ministering spirits” are entities distinct from those “who are to inherit salvation” (or human beings).

Suppose that by “their angels in heaven”, rather than implying that dead children are converted into angelic beings, the Lord actually meant something consistent with the rest of his word?

The psalmist wrote, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place — the Most High, who is my refuge — no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent, for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone”.

Let’s consider for a moment the psalmist’s assertion that those who love the Lord — of whom the child Jesus chose as an illustration was clearly one — have ministering spirits assigned to them to protect them. Of course, this is a general statement about how God characteristically deals with the righteous; it is not without regular exceptions for specific reasons. Job, the apostle Paul, and many, many others of God’s servants throughout history experienced extreme suffering in order to bring glory to God, some with their knowledge and consent and some suffering in blind faith. That understood, the psalmist here asserts that God uses angelic powers to protect his own.

What the Lord seems to be saying is not that dead people become angels (a notion prevalent in popular culture but taught nowhere in scripture), but that the heavenly powers assigned to the protection of believing children “always see the face” of the Father, implying that they have both access to him and his particular attention; that the Father takes both the faith and the needs of little children very seriously and deploys his heavenly forces accordingly.

Might that not be a more consistent and less fanciful interpretation?

Further, if it is alleged that these ministering spirits are the spirits of dead men and women, one might well ask what exactly Lucifer is; he who is referred to as the “guardian cherub”, the one who heads the “rulers ... authorities ... cosmic powers [and] the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. His moral fall preceded that of man, since he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden; he at least is not the spirit of a dead man. And who are his angelic followers? If angels are the spirits of the good dead, are demons then the spirits of the wicked dead? But this is impossible, since the wicked human dead are consigned to Hades awaiting final judgement, not roaming the earth as spirit beings doing the work of Satan. Neither Lucifer nor his angels are the spirits of the dead. Why then would anyone imagine a category of angels that are?

Such fatuous, garbled thinking is common in Christendom, but that does not mean we should be inattentive to what the word of God actually says.

On top of that, the recommendation to “tell [angels] to wake you up after the dream so that you will remember it” is stunning in its insolence.

First of all, humans never tell angels anything. While angels may be ministering (or serving) spirits, there is no suggestion ever in scripture that their appearance is to be treated casually, or that it is even possible for humans to be casual in their presence.

In fact, virtually every appearance of an angel causes the human involved to be terrified or awe-stricken. When the angel announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds, their first and most natural response was terror. At the tomb of the Lord Jesus, the angel’s appearance caused the guards to tremble and become like dead men. John, about as wise and well-instructed as any disciple, had to be explicitly commanded not to worship angels, since that was his natural impulse. However, he was told, “Do not do that. I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book. Worship God.”

Secondly, that your dead loved ones, or angels, “are communicating to you with feelings, messages and signs that you may not be picking up on” is beyond ludicrous. The only example I can find in scripture of a dead man wanting to speak to his loved ones was the rich man in Hades, who was told by Abraham, “they have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them”.

Such communication is not permitted. Each man or woman must make his or her own choice about their eternal destination before God without help or assistance from the dead.

No, there is no scriptural evidence whatsoever to suggest that angels are actually the spirits of dead people.

But forget angels. There are many, many more popular misconceptions about heaven.

Next: More on that. Possibly

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