Christological creation – 6: angels and other powers

I never thought I’d write a blog about angels! Like many contemporary Christians I don’t give angels a thought from one year’s end to the other, though accepting their existence. After all, Jesus and the New Testament took a definite stance on them, together with  resurrection, against one of the influential Jewish parties (Acts 23.8). The reasons for ignoring them are probably similar to those poor ones I suggested in relation to forgetting Christ when discussing creation. Nevertheless, I don’t want to engage in angelology, but simply to mention three things that we might learn by considering them in relation to creation.

Angels don’t evolve
The first point is that, if we start from science, we will have a very truncated view of what creation means biblically. “Theistic evolution” simply looks at whether, and how, God might use evolution, which is fair enough. The alternative term “evolutionary creation” suggests evolution is God’s chosen method of creation, but this ignores the fact that most of creation unquestionably does not evolve.

For a start, consider John Walton’s thesis that Genesis 1 is a functional creation account. As we’ve seen, natural science simply doesn’t do teleology. But Genesis talks about the provision for mankind of times and seasons, weather, and a functioning food supply including, specifically, livestock. Note, incidentally, these are the very features Paul draws from creation for the Lystrans’ instruction in Acts 14 – he must have read Walton!

“…you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness

Additionally, the word “create” [bara] in the Old Testament is used of many things that did not evolve, or aren’t even material things: clean hearts, fertility in the desert, storms, each new generation of creatures, each human life, volcanic eruptions, the nation of Israel, light, darkness, prosperity, disaster, the blacksmith and the destroyer, Jerusalem and, of course, the new heavens and new earth.

In the New Testament, when addressing the Athenians about the Creator in Acts 17 Paul says:

“He made every nation of men from one, fixing the seasons and boundaries of their dwelling..”

So the rise and fall of human peoples and cultures are also the work of the Creator God, and that’s not evolution either. The passage in Colossians 1 that describes Christ as Creator lists his work:

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Here again Paul covers the geo-political arena, paying more attention to the powers and rulers both on earth and in the angelic realms than to the material Universe, and the same is true in Romans 8.38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

He covers everything in creation – but names not a single thing that would normally appear in the science-faith discussion. “Powers and authorities” are much more significant to him, and many of those are angelic. The New Testament appears to be informed by the intertestamental literature on spiritual powers. For example, the Jews of Jesus’ time believed that each nation had its own governing angel (building on the mention of Michael the archangel in Daniel). My point is not to investigate this in detail, but to demonstrate that angels are a reminder that even the old creation is much wider than we usually suppose.

Angels exist for mankind
The second point builds on my previous post: the dignity (and infamy) of man in the scheme of creation. Although the angelic realm is in itself a vast domain, and a glorious one (remember Psalm 8: man was created “a little lower than the heavenly beings”), yet its destiny seems to revolve round that strangely influential creature, man. As it says in Hebrews 1:

To which of the angels did God ever say,
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet”?
Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

There are good and evil heavenly beings – but whenever it was that Satan went astray,it was on the human race that the effects of his lies were felt. We should remind ourselves, incidentally, that even evil spirits are turned to God’s purposes: remember how Satan tested Job only by permission of the Lord, and under severe constraints. And so we see that even the existence of an entirely spiritual realm, inaccessible to science, still fits into the same “heirachy” of purposes we’ve seen over the last few posts: an anthropocentric creation, in which Christ is glorified through suffering, all to the greater glory of God. When we finally come on to the material creation, that order should be borne in mind. My third point is related to this.

Angels are not redeemed
Though, for very good reasons, Scripture is not a handbook of angelology, it is pretty clear that their sin is different from that of mankind. Jesus does not convert demons – he expels and binds them. He warns people to avoid being thrown into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Jesus took on humanity to save men – he never took on angelic nature for such a purpose. Perhaps this has to do with their direct vision of God making them inexcusable. Perhaps it is that their sin was direct rebellion rather than, like Adam’s, being initiated through an act of deceit. Whatever the case, the fact that righteous angels are destined to rejoice with the saints, and demons to experience destruction (and, according to the gospels, are well aware of it) makes this passage interesting:

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1.18-20)

Now the “things in heaven” are angels, and we’ve already seen they’re not redeemed. So this shows that the “reconciliation” through Christ’s death has ultimately to do with putting the polluted “Cosmic Temple” right before God by cleaning it of sin through both salvation and judgement. To reconcile means to “change” (from enmity to friendship). The cosmos is reconciled to God firstly through the grace of forgiven human sin, but also by removing sources of evil from it by judgement. Hence Paul goes on in ch 2:

…having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

This disarming of the heavenly powers is a commoner theme than Evangelicals usually notice (Lk 10.18;Jn 12.31,16.11;2 Cor 4.4;Eph 1.19,2.2,6.12;1 Jn 5.19;Rev 12.10-12). It presumably has something to do with their accusation of sinners under the Law, knowing them to be bound to sin by the very deception they have brought. Nevertheless, their realm is said to be included in reconciliation, though they themselves are not: it is the redemption of mankind that actually brings them to judgement. Note, incidentally, how Paul subtly fails to include “under the earth”, the spiritual setting of the place of punishment, in this redemption, though he includes it in Philippians 2 amongst the places where “every knee shall bow” to Christ.

The point I want to make, which will be applicable when we come to consider the material creation, is that “redemption” does not necessarily imply solely the forgiveness of sins, but the removal of corruption of whatever type. But that’s for another post.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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6 Responses to Christological creation – 6: angels and other powers

  1. James Penman penman says:

    On nomenclature:

    My problem with Theistic Evolution is the one argued at some length by Gordon Glover in his “Beyond the Firmament”, viz. that you can stick “theistic” in front of anything & everything within a Christian worldview: theistic meteorology, theistic quantum physics, theistic anatomy, theistic molecular biology, theistic iron filings.

    My preference for Evolutionary Creationism is that I refuse to allow one school of thought (usually Young Earth) to hog the term Creationist, as if they alone believed in Creation.

    However, the point that angels have not evolved is a nice blow against universal Evolutionism which wants to import evolution into everything. We might add that God Himself does not evolve, & nor I think does the Imago Dei in humanity (it is given complete & once-for-all: one either has it or not).

    You could argue that the only area where angels “evolved” is that some of them became sinners….!! But that would be a pretty twisted use of the term.

  2. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    But that would be a pretty twisted use of the term.

    Yes – by the same token you could say that “nothing” evolved into “kinds” and make Creationism compatible with evolution.

    Whichever term you use, God is necessarily active in it. It’s necessary to say how “theistic” differs from “atheistic” evolution other than a God outside the process; or how “evolutionary creation” differs from “evolutionary luck”. Anyway, I hope to get on to “life and all that” in the next post.

  3. James Penman penman says:

    “and make Creationism compatible with evolution”

    Well, Creationism IS compatible with evolution, but not with Evolutionism (the cosmic philosophy) nor with metaphysical theories of biological evolution that construe it as “unguided”.

    My moniker “Evolutionary Creationism” serves to compare & contrast with “Young Earth Creationism” & “Old Earth Creationism”. Admittedly it does not address the issue of HOW God is active (if at all) in the bio-evolutionary process. For that, at present, I simply stick on the word “Reformed”: I am a Reformed EC. Hence I believe in God’s sovereignty. Hence nothing is unguided. Every single event, from the fall of a sparrow to the fall of an empire, is decreed by God.

    Another possibility is to say that I’m an Intelligent Design EC.

    Certainly I understand the problem: the apparent deism of too many EC advocates, notably on a certain website. Against that, yes, I wish to insist that God has both foreknown & decreed everything that happens, leaving nothing to “chance”. You know all the verses – the lot is cast into the lap, etc.

    And now I’m anticipating that someone will interrogate me about mechanisms: HOW does God actively effect the guided evolutionary process? If the question is put, I’ll answer….

    Meanwhile, back to angels: I agree that Christ’s reconciling activity embraces the fallen angels without redeeming them. He reduces them to submission, removing their capacity for active rebellion. Hell will be full of bowed knees, not raised fists. That I think synthesizes the seeming universalism of certain texts with the final judgment taught elsewhere.

  4. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Penman

    Actually, a reticence about discussing mechanisms is not the main problem for theistic evolution. It’s quite OK to be agnostic, and say “I don’t know how God does it, but somehow he must since Scripture and reason say so.”

    What is unacceptable is to say a process is genuinely unguided by either nature or God, but yet produces the results God wills.

    Nevertheless, it does seem reasonable to seek to bridge the gap between the “evolutionary” and the “creation”, rather than saying the first is science, the second is theology, and never the twain shall meet. A major effort of philosophy for millennia has been to examine as far as possible how the divine and the created can be in communication. That surely is part of the business of science-faith enquiry.

    So by all means let us hear your own tentative thoughts, without committing yourself to exhaustive critique by the metaphysicians.

  5. James Penman penman says:

    Hi Jon
    My position is essentially biblical rather than scientific. For example, Heb.1:3 says that the Son or Logos “upholds all things by the word of His power”. – “Uphold” here in Greek is “carry”, & it has the idea of carrying from one place to another. The Son is carrying all things – the cosmos – to the divinely intended destination. No wandering! No autonomous wobbling about, while a passive Son merely looks on.

    The phrase “the word of His power” is of course an OT idea, the powerful, effective word of God in creation & providence.

    Putting all this together, we have a thoroughly teleological concept of the universe. The Son is holding & carrying all things to their destination by His powerful word. I don’t see how a “guided universe” could be more strongly affirmed.

    God’s mechanisms WITHIN the created order for carrying everything to their intended destination can in principle be discerned by scientific investigation. But some things remain (I think) permanently opaque, especially how divine providence relates to human free agency. We know that Judas did what God ordained. We don’t know how God “guided” Judas to do this without infringing Judas’ freedom or God Himself becoming the author of sin.

    In the unfolding history of life, others will be better placed to comment on the mechanisms. Whatever they are, I will insist on putting them in the biblical- teleological framework sketched above. That’s why I dislike those BioLogians who seemingly wish to short-circuit the whole issue by ditching the framework & giving us an unteleological, unguided, unprovidential cosmos where Heb.1:3 doesn’t operate (not to mention a hundred other texts).

    Does this make some sense? I’m rushing before I get “timed out”!

  6. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Penman

    Can’t disagree with a single point. There seems to be a major disconnect between two understandings of Christ’s work in creation. The first is that of the wise master-craftsman, as in our view. The second seems to major on Christ crucified (so creation must be full of suffering), or a Renaissance view of freedom as the ultimate good (so Christ empties himself by letting blind processes get on with it) and other themes extended so far that they simply contradict large parts of the Bible.

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