‘Granny’s Little Angel on Board’. So read the sign in the back window of the car in front, along with the name of the aforementioned ‘little angel’. Twee, sentimental, naïve – describe it how you will. Not too theologically sound in its optimistic view of human nature. Hard to see John Calvin – biblical theologian that he was – hanging that one up in his motor. Maybe Mum would have revised Granny’s view, given half a chance.
Anyway, angels are everywhere at the moment, in every imaginable shape and variety. Just take a look at the shelves of your local bookshop and see how many recent volumes are devoted to angels: how to contact them, how to engage their services, everything you ever wanted to know, plus a lot of things you didn’t know you didn’t know. With your guardian angel on your side, you can face any problem, so it seems. You can even get a little model of your angel to put on your mantelpiece or carry around with you. It’s a marketer’s paradise. The tougher the going becomes, the more you need your angel.
Curious how angels get the spotlight and God scarcely gets a look-in. Of course, angels are there to provide help on demand. They don’t make inconvenient demands in the way God does. Like all the other God-substitutes on offer, these modern-day angels are a lot easier to live with. Sadly, little that is retailed in such angelology has any basis in reality. Whatever people may ‘like to think’, the truth as revealed in Scripture is very different.
Yet again we see the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 1:25 regarding fallen, sinful men and women: ‘They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator’. It always has been and always will be so. Sinners’ thinking is futile and their foolish hearts are darkened (Romans 1:21). If it is not angels, it will be some other object of superstitious devotion. It is the essence of sin to put something – anything – in the place of God. Devotion to angels is not new. The church as Colosse was under attack from false teachers who were beginning to influence the members of the congregation. Defining the precise nature of the heresy keeps New Testament scholars in a job. Sufficient to say that the person and work of Christ were being denigrated and, among other things, angels were being exalted. Hence Paul refers to ‘the worship of angels’ in Colossians 2:18. Calvin was exactly right when he said that ‘man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols’ (Institutes 1.11.8).
The answer, as Paul so clearly demonstrates in Colossians, is to focus on Christ: ‘in Christ all the fulness of Deity lives in bodily form’ (2:9). Christ is supreme by nature and over every aspect of the created order. No created thing deserves the honour that should be accorded to him. A recognition of the supremacy of Christ in creation, providence and redemption is the antidote to all forms of idolatry ancient and modern.
Not that angels should be ignored or forgotten. Exaggerated, misplaced honour accorded to them should not lead us to swing to the opposite extreme of disregarding their ministry entirely. The holy angels, who did not join in Satan’s rebellion, are part of God’s good creation. With his redeemed people, they worship and serve the Lord. They have a very specific role in the unfolding of the divine plan of salvation: ‘Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?’ (Hebrews 1:14). The Bible gives occasional glimpses of angels at work, sufficient to remind us of their existence and activity for our benefit, but certainly not enough to satisfy our curiosity or answer all our questions. We must be content with what God has revealed, avoiding speculation that has no root in Scripture (unlike some of the Colossians). How many times God has used his angels to protect or deliver us from danger we will never know, at least on this side of glory. That they have been busy we can be sure. We thank God for the ministry of angels, and keep our eyes fixed on Christ alone.