Angels fascinate us. Who can resist those little cherubs in the Christmas pageants, or the glowing tree toppers?
Calvin makes points on nine issues about Angels in the first volume of The Institutes. I’ll look at three of these in this post.
God is Lord over all!
We should not indulge in speculations concerning the angels, but search out the witness of Scripture
The designation of the angels in Scripture.
The angels as protectors and helpers of believers
The hierarchy, number, and form of the angels
The angels are not mere ideas, but actuality
The divine glory does not belong to the angels
The angels must not divert us from directing our gaze to the Lord alone
No matter how interesting angels are, they are neither God, gods, nor humans. Calvin points out that since the nature of angels is overwhelmingly good, it seems that they should not have to be under anyone’s control, maybe not even God’s. But if they are not under the authority of God that would make them equal with God. Like us, they are creatures of God’s creation. In the Nicene Creed God is called, “the Creator of all things visible and invisible.” The mention of invisible is important and deliberate. We do not pray to angels, nor do we pray through them. God alone is God!
Calvin’s next section reminds us of the importance of keeping ourselves from indulging our imaginations unduly. If you think this is unlikely, look at what we have done with the Christmas story. We have added any number of subtle touches to the actual story as told in scripture. We have added all kinds of details about the Wise Men, or Kings. We have variously given them camels and horses for transportation. We have added to the animal count in the stable and made up lots of details about the stable as well. We have added halos over the heads of Mary and Jesus, and we have cut the time frame considerably when we depict the shepherds and wise men in the same scene on the night of his birth.
Take a look at some of the movies and television shows we have which are based on the idea of guardian angels; the Christmas season classic It’s A Wonderful Life has taught us all that angels need to earn their wings and that when they do a bell rings; the tv show Touched by an Angel continues the idea of the guardian angel taking direct action in our lives; Angels in the Outfield; Michael; The Preacher’s Wife; Teen Angel; City of Angels; Saving Grace; and on top of all that, there are all those based on the fallen angel concept. If we want to learn about angels we need to stick with scripture and leave our imaginations at the door.
The final point I’m going to look at today is that of the designations of angels. We have heard of Cherubim, Seraphim, archangels, heavenly hosts, messengers. Calvin also points out that they are also referred to as virtues, principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, and gods. Many of these later designations make sense, like virtues and powers, but dominions, thrones and gods seem a bit less likely. I’ll look into dominions, thrones, and gods in an upcoming post.