Mortimer J. Adler, the noted philosopher and editor of "The Great Books of the Western World," has pointed out that, throughout centuries of recorded history, angels had been a major topic of conversation and study by philosophers and peasants alike. It was only in the 20th century that a strange silence about angels developed. The silence was not due to a lack of interest, but rather because in our scientific, highly rational age, people were hesitant to talk about heavenly beings that seemed to be irrational, mysterious, and thoroughly unscientific. Still, according to a 1993 Gallup poll, 73% of Americans said they believed in angels.
That same year, my wife Marilynn wrote an article for Guideposts magazine about a woman who reported seeing an angel just before she was purposely run down by a man stealing an ice cream truck. Marilynn received over 8,500 letters in response to the article, with many people telling her about their experiences with angels, often adding that this was the first time they had shared their story.By 1994, the explosion of interest in angels was obvious to everyone. Even the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story: "Long Unemployed, Guardian Angels Aare Pressed Iinto Service." Time magazine called to interview us for their cover stories on angels, and soon other magazines and the Associated Press were calling us. My wife and I served as consultants for network specials on angels. "Unsolved Mysteries" ran stories from our book, "A Rustle of Angels," during prime- time during sweeps week in 1994. When Oprah Winfrey and other talk-show hosts devoted entire programs to angels, people began feeling safe talking about the heavenly beings at work, at bridge clubs, and wherever people gathered.
Suddenly, shops were filled with angel merchandise of all kinds. In contrast to the majestic, mighty angels of the Bible (Matthew 28:2-4), these figures were greatly toned-down versions of the heavenly beings. Countless copies of Raphael's angels--two small, cuddly cherubs--suddenly appeared everywhere.
Williamson's answer was that even in the Bible, angels do not know everything (Matthew 24:36). Therefore, angels can learn. So the scriptwriters created Monica as an angel who was learning to be a guardian angel.
"Touched by an Angel" is fun and inspiring to watch, but the guardian angels portrayed in the Bible are not as puzzled and inept as Monica is every Sunday night. Angels in Scripture have superior intelligence, great wisdom, and centuries of experience of being guardian angels. But Martha Williamson is right: The angels in the Bible do learn (1 Peter 1:12), and it is possible that they are assigned different tasks from time to time.
Another heart-warming plot in the entertainment industry is about a guardian angel (usually male) who falls in love with his charge (usually female) and has to make the difficult decision of whether he should become a mortal or remain one of the heavenly hosts. Nicholas Cage faced this dilemma in the film "City of Angels." While it makes a lovely, romantic drama, the premise is theologically impossible.
The Bible portrays angels as being an order of creation higher than humans (Hebrews 2:7). To stop being an angel would not be a sensible choice. It would be similar to a man falling in love with his Labrador retriever and deciding to become a dog.
No matter how fun, whimsical, dramatic, and unpredictable the angels of popular culture are, however, they cannot compare with the mystical, magnificent supernatural heavenly hosts of the Bible.
Dr. William Webber is an American Baptist pastor. With his wife, Marilynn, he authored "A Rustle of Angels: Stories of Angels in Real Life and Scripture," winner of the print media award from The Excellence in Media Foundation. Copies of the book 'A Rustle of Angels' can be purchased directly from the author by sending a check for $15 which includes postage and handling to William Webber, 275 Celeste Drive, Riverside, CA 92507.