Angel Down Would Make the Softest Pillows

Angel Down Would Make the Softest Pillows

Photo by 小胖 车 on Unsplash

This is an adaptation of something I wrote more than a decade ago: I posted the original version as a Facebook note on June 6, 2009. I've updated and refined it, but the original message and intent are intact. I felt this would be a good time to share it because, if anything, divisiveness is only getting worse.

When I was a teenager, I went through a phase in which I had taken it upon myself to debunk "Christian Mythology." I still find that term helpful when referring to common beliefs that don't have a biblical backing, but my usage of it at the time was wholly derogatory. My obsession at the time was whether or not angels have wings. I found arguments for and against it, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that angelic wings were definitely in the "Christian Myth" category. In my zealousness, I once went so far as to call a local Christian radio station and argue with the commentators that nowhere in the Bible are seraphim or cherubim referred to as angels, so using them as evidence was ignorantly misleading at best and a vile lie of the devil at worst.

At some point in this idiotic season, a missionary came to my church. Somewhere in his message, he mentioned a time he had a vision of angels with swords held aloft in each of the corners of his sanctuary, which he took as God's way of showing him that he would be protected in his troubles. This intrigued me: here was a man that claimed to have seen angels, so he would surely know whether or not they have wings. When the crowd waiting to speak to him dissipated (so I could have his undivided attention for this very serious, very important matter), I made my inquiry.

He smiled at me and said something along the lines of, "God doesn't give us glimpses of the divine so we can write books about unimportant things, gain fame, or make money. He showed me what he did to make a point, and succeeded in doing so." But this answer did not satiate my ravenous curiosity; I was sure that the angels he saw mustn't have had wings, so I pressed the issue. Eventually, he flatly told me that I would not be getting what I wanted from him, and that was the moment I decided that he had made the whole thing up.

Looking back, I don't remember anything of what he said outside of the little anecdote I just related. What I do remember is that I had been enthralled with him until the moment I decided he was a charlatan. Because of my own stubborn "search for truth," anything of value from his message is lost to me.

I eventually came to the conclusion that no amount of studying would give me a concrete answer, so it was best to let it drop. Unfortunately, my obsessive habit simply switched to a different subject: hell. I began to scour every concordance, dictionary, etc. for as much information as humanly possible. Thankfully, this did not continue for long, as a question arose within me: do the nature, structure, and utility of hell have any significance before death? Separation, annihilation, torment — all of the possible theories shared at least one trait: they were entirely undesirable. No amount of speculation was going to reveal any aspect of hell more clearly than that. For that matter, none of my speculation on any other subject had uncovered anything more satisfying. I had wasted much too much time grasping at smoke and not nearly enough attempting to put out the fire that was causing it.

I take little comfort in the knowledge that I'm far from the first to fall into this self-righteous trap. Religionists of Jesus's time attempted to disregard the good that he did, instead focusing on the law as they understood it. It wasn't right for him to heal people on the Sabbath! (Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, John 9:13-16) It wasn't right that he kept company with sinners! (Matthew 9:10-11, Luke 15:1-2) It wasn't right that he "blasphemed"! (Luke 5:17-26) No matter what good Jesus did or the lives that he changed, they rejected it.

Jesus, on the other hand, called them out on their hyprocrisy. One example is the Parable of the Good Samaritan, with the point being that a Samaritan, despised among Jesus's audience and having disparate beliefs about the worship of God, did good by a Jew instead of the priest and Levite, his own people. Jesus concluded the story with a command to go and do likewise. (Luke 10:25-37)

The Samaritans used Mount Gerizim as their place of worship instead of the temple in Jerusalem. For the Jews of the New Testament, this meant they worshiped the wrong way and at the wrong place. During the Maccabean wars, Jews actually destroyed their temple on Mount Gerizim. Some time close to the birth of Jesus, a group of Samaratins vandalized the temple in Jerusalem by scattering bones. Jesus saw the marginalization of the Samaratins, saw the hatred on both sides, was familiar with the divergence of beliefs. Even so, he told this parable, showing people who spoke correctly, quoted scripture correctly, and were seen as moral pillars of their communities yet were utterly failing to do the work of God.

Is correct theology important? Does anything of worth arise from speculation and supposition? Of course, but I've seen otherwise reasonable believers exclude each other from God's service because of arguments about when and whether the rapture was going to take place. By all means, debate disagreements, but we shouldn't be disparaging each other and making divisions over issues that are not eternally significant, that don't impact the clear commands that God has given us, or that no one will have conclusive answers for until after we're dead.

Until then, let's be more focused on helping the beaten, bloody man on the road.