Brad and Sherry Steiger, former Beliefnet columnists, are the authors of various books on angels.

Q: My grandfather was born a slave in America, and I spent lots of my childhood listening to his stories. Some were funny, but many were filled with pain. My question is, if there are angels or any kind of heavenly being, why didn’t they give some comfort to those people. Are there any angels of color in heaven? Does racism exist even in the hereafter?

A: None of us are wise enough to provide satisfactory answers to such historical injustices as slavery, the extermination of aboriginal tribes, the merciless deaths of millions during the Holocaust, etc. In times of horrible persecutions, however, there emerge inspirational accounts of the appearance, counsel, and succor of angelic or spiritual beings. Stories of prayers answered, lives spared under miraculous circumstances, men and women inspired to accomplish heroic acts fill the folklore, legends, and scriptures of all cultures and religions.

For instance, from slavery there emerged spirituals and gospel music that still satisfy the soul today. Individuals in the most unfortunate of circumstances were inspired to elevate their hearts and spirits by a force far greater than the taskmasters who enslaved them. None of us can possibly excuse the institution of slavery, but we can admire the indomitable spirit of the enslaved that soared high above the evil imposed upon them and achieved the ultimate freedom of their souls.

As we stated in a recent column, we doubt if any human has ever seen what a heavenly being truly looks like in that being's dimension of reality. Further, we very much doubt that angels have a complexion of any shade or hue as we comprehend "color" in earthly terms. Racism would be nonexistent in the heavenly realms because its citizens are spiritual, rather than physical, beings. In other words, they have no material bodies to admire or to fault, to praise or to criticize, to glorify or condemn. And so it will be when we enter the world beyond death. Regardless of our ethnic heritage in our previous physical forms, we shall be beings of spirit, far removed from any prejudices, bigotry, or racism that may have afflicted us on the material plane--either as perpetrator or victim.

Here on Earth, in our opinion, angelic or spirit beings express themselves to us humans in a form and manner that would be recognizable and acceptable to our level of comprehension; therefore, they may appear in any complexion, height, gender, or ethnic character they choose. For Christians, Muslims, and Jews, these spiritual benefactors manifest as angels; for Mahayana Buddhists, bodhisattvas; for Shintoists, the kami; for the Hindus, the devas and devis. Chinese religion has countless personal spirits, such as the Spirit of the Hearth, and traditional Native American religions and African religions personify the spirits of nature, together with heavenly beings and their more prominent ancestors, as powerful benevolent entities.

Although we believe that angels and spirit beings are totally nondenominational, nonracial, noncultural entities, we were pleased when the publishers of our "Angels Around the World" portrayed three lovely angels with Asian, African, and Caucasian features to emphasize our opinion that these beneficent beings may appear in any manner revelatory and acceptable to the individual. We heard from many African American and Asian American readers who expressed their own pleasure at seeing angels appear in a manner other than the blond, blue-eyed stereotype so often depicted in religious art.

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