Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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Are the Angels Dead?

Hebrews 1.14  What are the angels, then? They are spirits who serve God and are sent by him to help those who are to receive salvation.

Funerals are seldom pleasant occasions. 

The most testing of such events for me as a young man was the burial of a young child knocked down in a road accident. The agony of a mother having to finally acknowledge her loss must pierce all but the hardest hearts. The reverberating pain I felt then has never left me - nor should it, for if it does then my sense of humanity will have been dulled to a sub-human level.

Sometimes, however, my sadness has been mixed with irritation when a well-meaning person, seeking to alleviate their own pain, would comfort the parents of a dead child with, "She'll be alright! She's gone to be with the angels" or some such platitude.

The idea of angels is ancient. In the Jewish tradition it goes back nearly three thousand years to the earliest Bible material such as Genesis 16.7 when the runaway slave Hagar is sent back to Abraham by "the angel of the Lord." Isaiah has a vision in which he sees God surrounded by "flaming creatures" who praise God so that "the sound of their voices made the foundation of the Temple shake."

By the time of Jesus the concept of angels had been highly developed. It can be hard for us to fully appreciate the nature of the world in which such beings were needed and valued. It was a world perceived as swarming with superhuman spirits, who were not subject to space and time and who were constantly bent on mischief or evil. Their leader, God's adversary, was Satan - a fallen angel who had once been on a par with Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the chief angels.

Although one couldn't often see or hear these spiritual beings, the evidence for their existence was clear. Why else would anyone fall sick? What other explanation might there be for the strange and unpredictable ailment we today call epilepsy? The nature of these evil spirits was demonstrated by the bizarre and often dangerous behaviours of lunatics. It was self-evident that no man or woman would, of their own volition, cause the terrible evils of robbery, insurrection and war. They had to have been tempted by Satan's emissaries to do what they did.

This spirit world is still with us. Beneath a veneer of sophistication and technological awareness there still lurks, it seems to me, a primal fear of the dark angels of the Evil One. Some African Christians, to my certain knowledge, will use a computer in the morning and in the afternoon seek the eviction of an evil spirit which has infected them or a loved one.

What's the harm in that, you may ask? And why shouldn't an aged "auntie" in a third-world slum, or the backwoods of Tibet, or in a posh Los Angeles suburb comfort a bereaved mother with, "She's with the angels now"? Don't we still need, as did our forefathers, the comfort of God's messengers to care for us and fight off the sadistic attentions of Satan's spiritual hordes? Isn't the recent Western fashion for angels a good thing in helping bring secular materialists back to God?

My answer is that the harm is - nothing or everything, depending upon which world you and I live in.

If you and I choose to live in the same, unchanging world which men and women have inhabited since the dawn of time, then the angels and their adversaries are with us and around us and influencing us every waking and sleeping moment of our lives. In this ancient world, spiritual vigilance must surely be our watchwords.

But if the world we today perceive is no longer an abode of angels and demons - well then, "She's with the angels now" isn't much comfort, is it?

Indeed, the well-intended comfort of spirit-angels may have become a deadly trap, a subversive virus invading our minds. 

Let me put it this way. God's angels have not died. They are with us all day and every day. If we will see them and listen to their messages, God can still speak to us, even in the 21st century.

But they are not the disembodied creatures of old. They are, quite literally, you and I as we sit in church on Sunday or go to work on Monday. God's speaks to us through the human condition, through our friends, through (surprisingly) politicians - through the babel of noise we call "the media" in our global village. And God speaks to others through us and our lives. He has no other messengers but us.

The danger, then, lies in turning our attention away from God's true messengers to a hidden world, a hypothetical world, a world beyond us which we can't influence directly or indirectly, a world glimpsed only in sudden moments - a world here this instant and gone the next.

No, the angels are not dead. They are alive and well and among us. We are angels, carrying God's love and goodness to others - or we are demons, wreaking pain and suffering on those around us.

In other words, we're the only comfort available to a grieving mother. We're the only angels of love, joy and compassion this world has or will ever have.

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