Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Safe All Around

The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

                        Psalm 34.7

Heavenly Hosts

No Biblical concept bewilders me more than angels. They appear in so many contexts and configurations, comprehending their basic form and function eludes me. There are good angels (Michael, Gabriel, et al.) There are evil angels (Lucifer and his crew). Some angels do nothing but worship, others deliver messages, and still others guard God’s people and holy places. Some come into physical contact with people, like the one that wrestles with Jacob. Some waft through dreams. Some hover overhead to perform choral numbers, as the heavenly hosts heralding Christ’s birth do. Then, to make things more confusing, angels come in various shapes and sizes. Cherubs have two wings. (1 Kings 8.7) Seraphs, per Isaiah 6.2, have six wings. During his vision, John of Patmos sees an angel resembling neither cherub nor seraph. His angel “was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars.” (Revelation 10.1)

I trust the time will come when I’ll grasp these perplexing mysteries. Meanwhile, I confess skittishness about discussing angels. In part this springs from factors cited above. But it also comes from awareness each of us imagines angels differently and believes in their post-Scriptural existence to varying degrees. Many accept their reality wholeheartedly; many regard them as figurative representations; a few experience manifestations they consider angelic visitations. Yet wherever each of us stands, I hope we all agree when the Bible introduces angels, something extraordinary is underway. And what that is takes precedence over how it’s described.

An Inner Circle

Belief in angels may strike rational thinkers as crazy. But David’s declaration in Psalm 34.7—“The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them”—comes at an undeniably lucid moment in his life. The psalm’s preface says he penned it after “he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.” A great deal of speculation has gone into what this refers to, as no recorded episode directly correlates to it. From what we’re told, though, we assume three things: David was imprisoned or held hostage by a hostile king. ("Abimelech" is a Philistine title akin to “Pharaoh.”) He faced sufficiently serious danger to risk loss of self-respect by feigning insanity—or epilepsy, according to some—to escape. Finally, his confidence in the strategy was shaky at best, because Psalm 34 revels in God’s mercy and protection without a hint of personal pride.

“My soul will boast in the LORD,” he writes in verse 2. Verse 4 says, “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” And the sixth verse reinforces this: “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.” In retrospect, despite being surrounded by hostility and danger, David observes an inner circle stood between his enemies and him. “The angel of the LORD”—plural, in the same sense of a collective guard or platoon—“encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.” His crazy routine didn’t save him after all. He’d been safe all around all along, buffered from harm by God’s protection. And, most important, the desperation and doubt that inspired his goofy behavior also signaled his dependency on God. Acting like a madman was the best he could come up with, but he went with it, trusting God to take his pitiful attempt and somehow make it succeed.

Through It All

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” they say. If we find ourselves encompassed by menacing attitudes and circumstances, we’re as likely as David to act like we’ve lost our minds. We may even think we have. But if we truly believe God is actively concerned about us, trust in His deliverance accompanies our feeble efforts. Where we are and what we do doesn’t negate confidence in Him. When what we come up with isn’t good enough, God steps in with His best.

In times of trouble, we take comfort in knowing we’re not part of God’s inner circle; we’re surrounded by it. His angels encircle us always. They camp around us. Whatever they look like, whether they’re actual beings or figurative representations of His love and power, they’re there. Where we go, they are. Psalm 91.9-11 promises this: “If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the LORD, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Life will jostle us left and right. Problems will knock us back a few steps. Time and progress will push us into uncertainties. Things will get crazy. We’ll act crazy. Sometimes we’ll believe we are crazy. Through it all, if we live by faith, we can stand secure inside God’s protective inner circle. He commands His angels to guard us in all our ways. We’re safe all around.

Whether actual or figurative representations of God’s love and power, angels encircle us always. We’re safe all around.

(Tomorrow: Anger Issues)


Cuboid Master said...

Thank you for discussing angels. I have always believed in them, particularly after I saw one when I was seven years old. Whether it was real or the creation of an overactive mind, I will never know, but I believe I was in the presence of an angel numerous times in my seventh year of life.

"She" -- and I use parentheses because her *spirit* felt female but she *appeared* androgynous -- did not speak in words but spoke with her mind. This alabaster-white, white cloth-covered angel told me, "Everything will be alright." I'm sure she said other things but that message stuck with me: Don't worry, Child, "everything will be alright."

I have felt the presence of God all my life thus I knew, when this angel came to me, that she meant for me to know God is with me. No matter how cruelly the adults in my life misused the gift of free will, God was by my side. The angel frightened me, frankly, but she also provided me solace.

It is indeed confusing, the way angels are portrayed in the Bible, but one thing is sure: They are of God. So many people I know have had experiences with them. Whether visions of them are real or vain imaginings I will never know, but I do know they are real.

Tim said...

CM, there are many, many stories like yours (not to tarnish the uniqueness of your experience, of course), and I would guess the majority of them occur during childhood crises.

Despite my quandary about the complexity of their hierarchy and diversity, I have no doubt that, actual or figurative, angels serve a very real and essential function. Their momentary passage leaves a lasting confidence in God's abiding presence.

In the Bible, they typically announce themselves with "Fear not." And I believe that's their overall mission--defeating fear by bringing light.

Thank you for this. And thank God for your angel!

Blessings always,

johnmichael said...

I've always believed in angels...His angels.
We are always told of the stories, how certain children have described beings that walk with them during dangerous times, people who has described beings that have helped them out of trouble, but when the trouble has passed can't seem to find these "helpers".
I've always believed in angels...

Tim said...

JM, I also have always believed in them, just never quite grasped the concept of them as fully as I'd like. Angels demand a degree of faith, don't they?

I think it's most important that we believe angels exist for all of us--not just those who are made aware of them or experience visitations. That's what I love about David's message here. If we have faith in God, we're surrounded by angels. That's something to reach for in times of trouble, I think. And we can't allow not having had a visual or sensory "confirmation" of angelic presence prevent us from believing they're there.

Hope you had a great weekend, and praying for a blessed year ahead!