Thursday, July 10, 2008

Angels as elemental nature spirits

These two pictures are among Gustave Dore's illustrations of Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. I love Dore's pictures, but it is hard to comment on these as I have not read the poem.

The angels in the picture seem to have been portrayed like fairies or nature spirits. Christians would generally not think of angels as nature spirits, but I think this may be to some extent a valid idea. I recently quoted John Henry Newman, who viewed angels as being intimately connected with the forces of nature.

The idea that nature is intimately connected with spirits is very common throughout the world, particularly in many animistic tribal cultures. Perhaps we may even say that the idea is a basic belief. Given that the cosmos God has made is fundamentally hierarchical, it seems natural to believe that God's providential sustaining and governing of creation takes place through intermediate beings. If so, when we experience God's glory reflected in creation, we also experience the created glory of the angels who communicate the divine reality.

There are a number of texts that would support the role of angels in creation and providence. Firstly, God says 'let us make man in our image.' It is common for conservative Christians to regard the 'us' as a reference to the Trinity, but this conclusion finds little support among Hebrew scholars. It is more likely that the 'us' are the divine council of heavenly beings who work with God. This council is referred to in a number of places in the Old Testament, such as in the first chapter of Job, Psalm 82 and 1 Kings 22. This view is defended here by Michael Heiser. That angels might be involved in the work of creation should not be thought of as compromising monetheism; they would not have created matter ex-nihil, but only worked in the development and shaping of this matter.

Galatians 4:3 refers to sinner being under bondage to the 'elements of this world.' This probably refers to spiritual beings. This fits with Paul's references to principalities, powers, mights, thrones and dominions. These spiritual beings, who were originally appointed to govern the cosmos and mediate God's sovereign rule still exercise authority over creation. This enables us to understand why there are so many natural disasters and diseaises in the world. The creation is being corrupted by the misrule of angelic powers and elements.

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7)

In a number of places, the Bible connects the stars of heaven with the angelic hosts. There seems to be an intimate connection between the two. Thus, when we see the stars, we are seeing the divine glory being mediated through the working of the sons of god. The universe that we inhabit is a pale reflection of the greater glory of the heaven where God and His hosts dwell.

Yet we shall be translated to that position. God created man in His image. Though we are like the angels, we are lesser than them now. However, in Christ, the Lord is gathering together a people who will come to be transformed into the divine glory of heaven. Believers in Christ are to share the beauty and the radiance of those beings created in the distant beginning. It is God's purpose that the redeemed should come to exercise that position of ruling authority over the whole of creation, to replace that fallen hierarchy that now governs the cosmos. Mankind, redeemed in Christ is to be at the head of all creation.

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