Thursday, January 10, 2013

Do Dead People Become Angels?

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about dead people becoming angels:

Q:  Do people become angels when they die, when they arrive in heaven, or at any time?

This is an idea that has been an undercurrent of American spirituality for as long as many can remember.  Consider all the art, drama, satire, and other art forms that have portrayed heaven as a collection of people who have gained wings and dwell in residences of cloud. 

Perhaps this is a product of artistic attempts to use wings as a visual device for portraying otherworldly souls who have departed their physical bodies.  Perhaps it is somehow connected (whether by cause or by effect, I do not know) to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and its well-known saying, “Every time a bell rings, an Angel gets its wings.” 

Whatever the source, this is more American mythology that Christian theological truth.  What we do know about the Angels from Biblical revelation includes that they are uniquely designed spiritual creatures who lack physical bodies.  They serve God, and at His command serve believing humans.  They were created without the capability to reproduce and thus their number is permanently set, and while a third of them did rebel, and are now known as demons, they are not different creatures, but rather, angels-gone-bad. 

On the other hand, we know that when a human dies, their body is buried (or perhaps left behind on earth in some other form, such as results from cremation), and their soul lives on, either in the presence of Jesus or separated from Him, until He comes to judge the living and the dead. 

Another potential source of this confusion may be the misunderstanding about the eternal status of the human soul.  Many mistakenly believe that the heavenly existence where the soul rests with Jesus is the ultimate goal of a person’s journey through birth, growth, life, and death; but in fact, it is only another stop on the way to eternal life—a permanent existence where the faithful live forever in restored and resurrected bodies.  The Bible describes this existence as a “new creation” and a “city of God,” complete with very physical elements and characteristics. 

If one is not familiar with these descriptions and the concept of a resurrection of the body on the last day, though, it is easy to see how the life of angels and that of deceased humans could be easily confused.  If a person is thought to live in a permanent state of non-physical life in God’s presence, and that is the same existence which angels live, than the two would become difficult to distinguish. 

Ultimately, the Bible never speaks of a human becoming an angel, nor does it speak of the reverse, nor does it speak of any hybrid being which blends the two.  Instead, it always speaks of them as permanently distinct creations with their own roles, characteristics, abilities, and callings.  At points, such as in a section of the book of Hebrews, it even compares and contrasts them—a fact which itself reinforces the permanent distinction between the two. 

Rather than seeking the greener grass of angelic life, the Bible instead encourages Christians to look toward the resurrection of their bodies and those of all the faithful—past all the pain, sorrow, and suffering of this world—and instead of a life freed from the body, to a life with our bodies restored to live forever under His care.

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