Touched by an Angel

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken March 31, 1996

Angels are trendy. You can buy angel calendars. You can call up angelic images on the Internet. You can still get angel postage stamps to put on your correspondence. If you go to the bookstore you can pick up a copy of a book like The Angel Book: A Handbook for Aspiring Angels [Karen Goldman, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992].

Angels even have their own TV show: "Touched By An Angel." Perhaps you've seen it. The show goes something like this: An angel is assigned to help someone become a better human being. After an hour of missed opportunities and setbacks, the angel succeeds. In the episode I watched a few weeks ago, an angel-trainee posed as a United States Postal Worker in order to help a Holocaust survivor trust in God again and reach out to an abused girl after her father dies.

Ok, the plot was a little far-fetched, but the characters in "Touched By An Angel" wrestle with serious questions. They deal with questions like these: Is there a God? If there is a God, would He prevent evils like air pollution? Does God have a plan for your life? Does He answer prayer? Does He love you? Is He there for you when you need Him? One character even wrestled with the threat of divine judgment: "Do you know how much it hurts," he said, "to know that God exists, and that he hates me?" That's a profound question.

"Touched By An Angel" is a good show to have on television because it treats spiritual matters as if they matter. I say that, even though the program's theology isn't always orthodox. Its vision is more humanistic than biblical.

The producers of the show believe in the basic goodness of humanity. As I heard one of the angels say, "Humans get a chance to help people every day, but they won't because they're afraid." It's not that people don't love others because they're sinners, you understand, but because they're afraid. All people need is a little education, you see, not a spiritual transformation. But even if "Touched By An Angel" doesn't always have the right answers, it's nice to hear somebody at least ask the right questions these days. I can imagine that the program may even turn out to be pre-evangelistic for some people, awakening a spiritual desire that won't be satisfied until they meet God themselves.

What intrigues me about "Touched By An Angel" is not so much its portrayal of humans as its portrayal of angels. God is a distant figure on the TV show. He is remote, off-stage. His directions come from somewhere very far away and mysterious. He's not the sort of god with which one has a personal relationship.

Angels, on the other hand, are up close and personal. When you're in trouble, what you really need is an angel. Angels are your companions on life's journey. Here's what they sing at the beginning of the show:

When you walk down that road,

When you carry that load,

I will rise and I will walk with you.

What the "Touched By An Angel" angels do is serve as spiritual mediators between God and man. The underlying message of the show is that God is so distant that you can't expect to have a personal relationship with Him, but you can get in touch with angels. Angels are not threatening. Actually, they're a lot like human beings, which probably explains why they appeal to the post-modern mind.

Now it's true that angels are God's helpers. The biblical words for "angel" (Hebrew: malach; Greek: aggelos) mean "messenger." Angels carry out God's instructions. They are God's ambassadors in the world. They are spiritual beings, but they sometimes appear in human form, like the angelic messengers who met Abraham(Genesis 18), or spoke to Samson's parents (Judges 13). On occasion, they give messages to human beings (e.g. Luke 1:26-38), or serve as guardians for God's people (Psalm 91:11-12). But we are not instructed to turn to angels for help. Angels are our servants, not our masters.

When angels are encountered in the Bible, people are usually terrified of them, like the shepherds who were watching their flocks by night (e.g. Luke 2:9). When angels appear in angelic form, they are so glorious that people are tempted to worship them. The apostle John had that experience. He wrote:

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me (Revelation 22:8; cf. 19:10).

The angels in "Touched By An Angel" aren't the kind of creatures you might be tempted to worship—at least not in the episode I saw. They don't quite have it all together. They aren't always sure what they're doing. Sometimes they even bicker. What they are really like is human beings, which explains why they seem within our spiritual reach.

The Bible warns us not to worship angels, or even to have an unhealthy fascination with them. The Apostle Paul wrote:

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 (Colossians 2:18).

One reason we shouldn't worship angels is that the angels themselves worship God. Worship is their vocation (Revelation 7:11). It would be inappropriate for us to worship another creature who is worshipping the Creator.

It's also unnecessary. We do not need to turn to angels for help. God is not distant and remote. God sent Jesus Christ to this earth so that we could be close to Him. There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). We do not need to go through angels to get to God. When we meet Jesus, we are meeting God Himself, in human flesh. We don't need to be touched by an angel, because God has reached out to touch us in Jesus Christ.

© 2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. ©2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org