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.
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.