Sen. Mark Kirk, his angels, and ours

Angel fresco

13th century fresco of angels from the chapel of St. Michael at the Basilica of St. Julien of Brioude. Wikimedia Commons

Having suffered a life-threatening stroke, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk laid in his hospital bed unconscious and plugged into IVs and monitors. In what he described as possibly a dream or the side effect of his drugs, he suddenly became aware of angels — three of them — standing by.

“You want to come with us?” they asked.

“No,” he said, “I’ll hold off.”

With that, he woke up.

Kirk recently told his story to the Chicago Daily Herald as he was preparing to return to the Senate after nearly a year recovering from his ordeal. (Thanks to Matt K. Lewis for the pointer.)

Neglected and abused

As many readers here know, I have more than a passing interest in angels. They are an often neglected aspect of Christian spirituality, and when not neglected they’re often abused. In the snarky lyrics of Terry Taylor:

Too many angels near the ground
They’re buzzin’ ’round like
lovely killer bees
Little knickknack cherubs,
busy bodies, always
puttin’ on the squeeze

My book Lifted by Angels is a corrective. It’s an attempt to place angels within the drama of human salvation, explaining their role as guides and guardians leading us to and through a saving experience of Jesus Christ. It’s a perspective grounded in the scripture and the understanding of the early church.

With those sources in mind, what’s clear when hearing stories like the senator’s is that we don’t have to resort to narcotics to explain such a vision. That we do so may in fact reveal a sort of spiritual blindness.

Our fettered minds

It’s worth looking at a biblical story to see what I mean. When the Syrian army warred against Israel, the Syrian king wanted Elisha eliminated because the prophet repeatedly spoiled the invaders’ plans. So he sent a large detachment to surround and capture the prophet. They came in the night, and by morning the entire city where Elisha stayed was surrounded.

Elisha’s servant saw the host and melted with fear. “Alas, my master!” said the servant. “What shall we do?” For his part, Elisha seemed oddly untroubled. He just prayed that the servant could see what he already did: a celestial army of fiery horses and chariots surrounding the Syrians. Elisha and his servant had nothing to fear.

When commenting on this story, the great bishop of Milan, Ambrose, focused on awareness. Though Elisha sensed and even saw the encircling angels, his servant could not. Why? Ambrose pointed to the man’s servile status but spiritualized it to say that the man’s mind was in bondage.

I think that’s true for us. We are blinded by naturalism and materialism, which sit on our eyes like weights. It’s a sort of spiritual or noetic bondage.

The free eyes of faith

Some do not have this problem. They are aware of the angelic role and assume angels’ presence in our lives. The Irish Independent, for instance, ran a story about a young Dublin couple who were attacked by gang members.

Delivering takeout food for some extra Christmas money, the man and his girlfriend sat in their car when thugs “came out of nowhere” and circled the vehicle. One pointed a weapon and began shooting into the passenger’s side door where the girlfriend sat. The bullets did not penetrate the door, perhaps owing to a feature of its construction, as the paper allowed.

The girlfriend had a different idea: “There was a guardian angel there,” she said.

Was there? There’s no way to prove it. Like the existence of God himself, no one will ever prove the existence of angels. But that shouldn’t stop our believing in them. As we confess the Nicene creed, we say that we believe in the church, and the church teaches the active presence of angels in the lives of believers, from our earliest days until they meet us bedside to escort us to the bosom of Christ.

If we had the free eyes of faith and an unfettered mind like Elisha’s, we would be more aware of this reality and what it means for our daily walk of faith.

Promotion: Don’t miss Frank Viola’s new piece, “Forgotten words of Jesus.” It’s an important message: “[I]f you don’t wish for your motives to be imputed with evil, then don’t impute others with evil motives. If you don’t wish to be judged, then don’t judge others. If you don’t wish to be gossiped about, then don’t gossip about others. If you don’t wish to be personally attacked, then don’t attack others personally.” It’s worth reading.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • John Carter

    Indeed, we seem almost solipsistic (started to say autistic but thought better of it) about grasping that we share a world filled with *others* … not to mention the very presence of God. Christians today eagerly grasp at “gaps in knowledge” thinking this allows for the activity of God. Should we suppose if we knew that the door was constructed in such a way that bullets just happen to be shunted away, that would prevent it from being a miracle wrought by God? Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, “…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.”

    How much greater a miracle would it be if God inspired an engineer to so design a door for the service of other features that happened in this one case to protect from bullets years later? Inspiration does not require our full understanding and providence can never be nailed down to a series of cause and effect physical actions and reactions. Beyond understanding, God is with us. Is it so much greater a leap to believe that the community of three Persons that is God should act through divine community? That the inspiration of that engineer could not be an angel sent from God? Christians often seem to allow for all sorts of subtle influence from demons … why could angels not also visit without fanfare … to uphold the fullness of personhood in divine activity and thus uphold our own personhood? Obviously, God does not need creatures to be Himself but it seems to be of the nature of Love to involve all of creation in that activity of self expression.

  • Margie

    I appreciate all you write on angels, Joel, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will need to get your book! I got a book years ago by Billy Graham about Angels, seems I remember now it was full of stories of individual people and their experience/encounter with an angel or angels. I am very surprised to read that Mr. Kirk did not want to go with the angels, but maybe not so surprised. I have to ask myself what would I say. Maybe it is children who are the most ready to go when asked by their angel or angels. It is my belief that no child leaves this world unaccompanied by an angel, several angels or Our Lord with angels. God bless you and your family!

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