Monday, November 29, 2021

Anonymous Asks (173)

“Do guardian angels exist?”

How many angels are there? We can’t be sure, but there are indications in the Bible that number is stratospheric. Hebrews speaks of “innumerable angels in festal gathering”. In Revelation, John writes of “many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands”.

The Greek expression underlying the latter phrase may refer to vast numbers generally, or may refer literally to the number 10,000 times itself.

Now, 10,000 times 10,000 comes to one hundred million. It is doubtful John meant this to be taken literally, any more than the expressions “like the sand on the seashore” or “like the stars in the sky” are meant to be taken literally. They simply mean “too many for anyone to count”.

So, while we cannot accurately number the angels, we can say with confidence that God is not about to run out. They are hardly in short supply.

Angels Who Guard

Nor is it disputable that spirit beings often serve the function of guarding things on God’s behalf. When God drove mankind out of the Garden of Eden, he posted cherubim with a flaming sword to guard the way back to the tree of life. Ezekiel refers to Satan as an “anointed guardian cherub”. Who “guarded” or covered the Ark of the Covenant? Why, cherubim of glory, of course. And remember the famous promise to Israel: “I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.”

Nor is it only the higher ranks of spirit beings who serve and protect. Angelic messengers are also guardians. The psalmist writes:

“For he will command his angels [mal'āḵ] 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.”

That promise is most perfectly realized in the Lord Jesus; after all, who can say with greater confidence and accuracy that he “dwells in the shelter of the Most High” and abides in the shadow of the Almighty? And yet we know that Christ suffered more than anyone, which brings up the issue of the limits of divine protection.

The Limits of Divine Protection

Guardian angels do not guard anyone and everyone. They are assigned by God to individuals who make the Lord their dwelling place and know his name. If this were not true, Psalm 91 would have no point. Guardian angels are commissioned to protect those beloved of God, in order to ensure his plans and purposes are carried out without interference, and that those he has chosen to preserve cannot be touched by the enemy without his explicit permission.

This was the complaint to God made about Job by his accuser, looking to do him harm: “Have you not put a hedge around him?” What sort of hedge would that be? Not a literal one, surely, but rather a ring of angelic protection.

Moreover, the protection afforded by angels is not limitless. We live in a fallen world. Apart from the Lord Jesus, everyone in history who ever enjoyed the protection of a guardian angel was a fallen human being with a finite lifespan. The existence of guardian angels has no bearing on the inevitability of death. Guardian angels do not protect us from our own choices, from temptation, from our genetics, from natural disasters, from painful things that happen in the process of being disciplined and trained by our loving Father, or from opportunities God grants us to bring glory to him in this world, even if they turn out to be extremely difficult and even terminal. We might think a universal divine shield would be nice, but scripture does not promise it. Rather, guardian angels protect us from the judgment of God, who never judges the righteous with the wicked. (Psalm 91 is explored in detail in this post.)

Angels and Children

With this is mind, it is not surprising that believing children also enjoy extra-special protection. Jesus commented that little children who humble themselves and believe in the Lord Jesus are associated with angels who “always see the face of my Father who is in heaven”. He even calls them their angels, where “their” is autos, meaning “belonging to them”.*

So, do guardian angels exist? Sure. But not everyone has one. There are lots and lots of angels, but maybe not 7.9 billion plus.

Do you have one? Well, that depends. Have you said to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust”?

Apparently that makes all the difference.

* Some people infer from this that dead children become angels, and talk about them “getting their wings” when they die, but that is not what the Lord is teaching. In the resurrection men and women may be “like angels” in some respects, but that is very different from becoming angels. The idea that people become angelic beings is not taught anywhere in scripture; in fact, the two sorts of created beings made in the image of God are always carefully distinguished. Rather, I think the Lord is teaching that the angelic guardians of believing children have immediate access to his Father during the lifetimes of the children to whom they are assigned, enabling them to protect their charges even more effectively.

To put it in the vernacular, believing children have “boss level” guardian angels. You don’t want to mess with them!

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