The answer is yes, but the question makes me a bit nervous since our attitudes toward angels often reflect a sentimental spirituality that isn't biblically accurate.
After church one Sunday, a woman told a group of us a story about her 16-year-old son. He'd been driving on a busy road and another driver clipped him, discharging the air bags and leaving him with minor injuries and a sober spirit. We listened intently since most of us had kids about the same age.
Then she said, "God really sent his angels to protect him. I shudder to think what might have happened if they hadn't intervened." Most everyone around the circle nodded gently, but a friend struggled to excuse himself as discreetly as possible.
I followed, and when I caught up with him, he was fighting his emotions. "So where were God's angels when Austin needed them?" he asked.
Austin, his 12-year-old son, had contracted leukemia and died just months after the diagnosis. My friend sure could have used an angel to intervene before Austin breathed his last breath. Four years later, the pain was still fresh.
The woman who told the story didn't intend to inflict pain. But I often hear such careless conversations, interpreting God's interventions or actions in ways that may or may not reflect the truth.
What the Bible Says
The Bible tells us a lot about angels. They don't marry or die (Luke 20:35-36). Angels are involved in revealing the law (Acts 7:38), bringing messages from God (Zechariah 1:14-17), praising God (Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 5:11-12), and protecting his people (Daniel 6:22; Acts 12:7-10).
Some angels rebelled against God (2 Peter 2:4). Those angels, of whom Satan is chief, work through false teachers (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; 1 Timothy 4:1-2), attempt to separate believers from God (Romans 8:38-39), and tempt us to sin (1 Peter 5:8).
But the Bible teaches us as much about angels by what it doesn't say. We're never told to study them or even to look actively for their appearance. Even in Hebrews 13:2, which says that by being hospitable some have unknowingly entertained angels, there's no admonition to be on the lookout for them.
In Colossians 2:18-19, the apostle Paul actually warns us against that. "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head."
The Right Focus
Far from being sweet figurines, angels are powerful beings used by God to work in the world (Hebrews 1:14). But the focus is never on them; it's on God and his work in our lives. And our focus needs to be on our work in the lives of others. We overlook our call to love our neighbors when we approach hospitality hoping an angel may be included. When we look for the spectacular, as though that's a mark of a superior spirituality, we brush past the needs and glories of the people God puts in our path.
Yes, I think angels are active in the world today. Austin's dad later told me he thought God's angels were present throughout his son's illness. His family was ministered to in profound ways, even in the midst of their awful ordeal. But don't let the possible presence of angels keep you from seeing the tangible presence of God in the people around you.
Nancy Ortberg is a church leadership consultant and popular speaker who lives in California with her husband, John, and their three children.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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