Angelosophy has become a popular topic in the past few years. People have been talking about, thinking about, and wondering about angels. A small percentage of people claim to have had an experience with angels. No doubt, the popular television show, Touched By An Angel, has raised the consciousness of some, but even prior to that colorful fiction, there were a number of books that had been written on the subject, many of which have sold hundreds of thousands of copies (Billy Graham's book has sold over 2 and 1/2 million).
Some of these books do not just take every reported sighting at face value; the authors advise against gullibility because many alleged incidents have been seen by only one person, which tends to make them very subjective and not verifiable. After all, people might be convincing themselves that a hallucination was real, or the mind could be playing psychological tricks, in which imagination becomes reality.
One writer (who believes in angel encounters) summed up accurately the substance of many of the stories. According to H. C. Moolenburgh, in A Handbook of Angels, many angel experiences begin with an "extremely dangerous situation." Then there is "the sudden rescue," usually by "a normally-dressed young man" whose countenance is often "noticeably beautiful." Finally, there is "the sudden complete disappearance of the rescuer" (48).
Although this author introduces some ideas that are bizarre even for a book of this type, he has stated correctly this pattern which many angel stories follow.
But of interest to many of us would be the purpose of such rescues, the rationale behind the selection process, and the results of these episodes.
The obvious purpose of these unexpected "rescues" is to save the lives of those who would have been killed. Dr. Moolenburgh has followed his original Handbook with stories of various angel phenomena, such as Meetings With Angels, which is a collection of 101 such events, along with a defense of his beliefs.
In the opening chapter he suggests criteria for discerning the difference between genuine angel encounters and false ones, which, as urban legends do, become often repeated. His first meeting with an angel involves a toddler who climbed down a terrace and was heading for a busy street. Suddenly, "a lovely, sweet little blond girl about four years old, walked up," spread out her arms, and prevented the adventuresome youngster from entering the highway. When the mother, having caught up to her daughter, turned to thank the little girl, she had disappeared (6).
Was the toddler saved by a guardian angel appearing as a four-year-old child? Since both parents could testify to what happened, the book's author believes this to be a genuine angelic intervention. Moolenburgh believes the child might have panicked if a tall, male angel had made an appearance, but other accounts find angels at people's elbows (17), whisking them up and away from danger; so why not here? Angelic saviors must be allowed artistic license, apparently.
Moolenburgh advances a theory on the reason for angels saving lives in this way:
The meeting with angels is not meant only to help someone out of their difficulties; this experience serves a greater purpose, and is particularly intended to help man in his metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly.
Yet despite these protestations, no evidence of spiritual rebirth is ever presented. The author gives no illustrations of anyone, after an angel experience, turning to the Scriptures to be born again. Some claimed to have their faith strengthened, but "people with a Protestant background often described a deeper relationship to the Bible, while people with a Catholic background sometimes referred to a more intimate relationship with Mary" (194). In neither case is there anything said about the desire to simply want to learn the Scriptures in order to obey God properly. In fact, one girl (six at the time of her "rescue") claimed it was not until adulthood that she realized the significance of the event: "She became a preacher" (110). She was saved so that she could grow up to do that which directly violates the Word of God (1 Tim. 2:11-14)?
Finally, the author notes that "none of my correspondents refers to a closer relationship with the Church," which he terms a "human organization" (195). If angels were genuinely saving unfortunate individuals for the purposes of spiritual rebirth, there could hardly be this casual attitude that the church is a superfluous entity--when the truth is that Christ shed His blood for her (Acts 20:28).
But questions surface about the alleged "rescues" that occur. Why are some children saved while others are lost? Moolenburgh insinuates that this question may need to remain unanswered--that it is a mystery of destiny (112); to clarify this point he adds that "heaven is not very logical" (113). Actually, this is a better answer than it first seems--if we understand him to say that mere human beings do not always know why God does or does not do certain things.
Who would like to explain, for example why James, the brother of John was put to death with the edge of the sword while Peter was delivered from prison (Acts 12)? John and his family may have wondered the same thing. God is Sovereign; He is neither required to explain everything to us nor give account of His actions and decisions, as Job learned. Many Christians have been tortured and put to death while we in America have a pretty cushy deal. Who can explain that one?
What effect does being rescued by an angel have on those fortunate souls? For one, "life is never the same again" (60). Life takes on renewed "meaning" (195). Several improvements are given by those who have been so benefitted. Following are some of their comments:
1. "My soul is healed."
2. "I have become deeper," or "I feel enlightened."
3. "I am more separate from the world" (196).
Others said their capacity for real love increased, they were "able to help those around them," they experienced a sense of "oneness" (16). Some even claimed to receive spiritual gifts (197), such as the gift of discernment (198).
Many said that their life now "had a sense of direction" (200). For some, their spiritual capacities were surprisingly enhanced--as if contact with an angel suddenly produced the fruit of the spirit; love, joy, and peace became part of their lives (Gal. 5:22-23). For others, they developed a greater capacity to help their fellow man. As with "near-death" experiences, most do not fear death any more.
Obviously, something powerfully emotional occurs in these situations, but they do not resemble Biblical accounts of meetings with angels. Peter, for example, was escorted by an angel out of prison, but he had to be rebuked for hypocrisy later on (Acts 12:7-11; Gal. 2:11-14); what happened to his increased love? Or better yet, what about the guards who shook for fear of the angel who rolled back the stone from Jesus' tomb (Matt. 28:2-4)? They recovered sufficiently to accept bribe money to perpetuate the lie that Jesus' disciples stole his body (28:12-15).
We do not claim to be able to explain many of the stories that have been reported, and since there are seldom any eyewitnesses, these occurrences are difficult to either prove or disprove. Actually, Christians have only one credible source upon which to rely--the inspired Word of God, and it does not particularly substantiate the 101 "meetings with angels" recorded in this or any other book.
So, while we cannot explain such experiences, we can understand the discrepancies between them and what the Bible reveals. We can also see that the effects of these so-called visitations do not match any goal or plan of God's. If the experience drew people to the Truth, there might be a case; otherwise, in the absence of tangible evidence, we must remain skeptical.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "ANGEL VISITATIONS (11/15/98)."