The reason we need powers of discernment is because the world is awash with spiritual charlatans, deceivers, and even well-meaning people who get drawn into the seductions of immensely powerful angelic minds. St. Paul says that these people are “following the age of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the disobedient” (Eph 2:2). This “power of the air” is Satan, who, before time began, fell from Heaven with his cohort of demons and possesses unrivalled powers of seduction and deceit. The devil’s spiritual prowess for evil is so intense that Jesus felt constrained to warn us about him using what we would describe today as very harsh and politically-incorrect language. In speaking to the Pharisees, He said
You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. (Jn 8:44)
Needless to say, we should take such a threat to our spiritual lives very seriously. The devil and his angels are not to be trifled with.
Yet, it seems that trifling with angels is what we do in our society. There is a strong expectation in modern culture that we should be open to encounters with angels and, furthermore, that we should seek out such encounters.
The pervasiveness of New Age ideas about angels has caused us to reverse the proper spiritual order of things. Angels, we are told, are unassuming heavenly servants who exist for our wellbeing and can perform an amazing set of services for us ranging from the most dramatic rescues to assistance in finding lost car keys and parking spaces. In fact, there is no element of life about which they are unconcerned, especially when it comes to our sufferings. They love to console us like no one on earth because they are so close to God; they know exactly what we need and when we need it. Therefore, we must strive to increase our intimate time with them, actively seek their companionship, and learn to relate to them as we would to a best friend.
Most people would be shocked to know that this description of angels comes directly from the New Age movement and contains a number of serious distortions. Even the most sincere Christians nowadays do not know that such expectations are totally at odds with long-standing Christian teachings about the nature and mission of angels. Without a foundation in any intellectual or religious tradition, New Age practitioners indulge in conjecture about angelic activities and engage in illusory visualizations of their identities. New Age gurus, psychics, mediums, and esoteric “specialists” of all types are constantly telling their listeners what roles the different angels can play in making their lives more meaningful. According to them, angels exist for every human profession, need, crisis, concern, and whim. Their unhealthy fascination with angelic activities, names, and identities is actually fueled by some very unholy spirits that delight in keeping credulous human minds distracted from the things of God and focused on deceptive substitutes. Detached from the wholesome disciplines of doctrine and tradition, our age is vulnerable to a radically distorted angelology that leaves us open to diabolical tricks and illusions. In the worst case scenario, our dabbling in superficial angelology may inadvertently leave us open to a strong element of demonic influence in our lives while allowing us to believe that we are acting in concert with holy angels.
Christians accept the reality of angelic interventions in our world, but we do not seek out angel “encounters”. Even less do we attempt to contact angels, form “friendships” with them, or engage in activities at their bidding. The spiritual danger inherent in these activities will be made clear throughout the course of this book. Holy angels, rather, are spiritual giants whose presence we only rarely discern but whose power and intelligence penetrates and surrounds our whole existence. They are as far superior to us in strength and intelligence as we are to the smallest, weakest animals of the natural world. They are not the warm, fuzzy, tantalizing creatures that the New Age presents to us, and they certainly are not chubby babies with wings! Such formulaic images of holy angels are deceptions.
God’s angels, rather, are silent warriors standing by our sides at all times, humble giants of spirit, full of generous goodness toward us. They love us with an intensity that cannot be fathomed by the human mind, but they are not under our command; we, rather, are under theirs. They do not exist to indulge our perceived needs and whims. They exist to do the Will of God in our regard and express a holy concern for us which centers not on our bodily needs but on our most authentic need: salvation. That is their mission, no more and no less. The angelic office is thus a spiritual one that sometimes intersects with the fulfillment of human needs or the necessity of rescue from danger, but not always. An angel’s intervention in human affairs, his “appearance” to the eyes of our souls or bodies, is by no means necessary to his happiness. It is always regarded as essential to the spiritual welfare of his charge.
We may more accurately discuss the angels’ relationships to us in other than the familiar language of friendship. They are not our equals, as friends are, because they are of a different nature and highly superior to us in every way. When we speak of angels as our friends we do so only in metaphorical terms. Angels are more like our tutors, mentors, protectors, and perhaps even elder brothers in the shared mission of doing God’s will on earth and getting our souls to heaven.
This the primary reason why holy angels do not hunger for “encounters” with human beings: they already have a God-given, tutorial relationship with their individual charges in Christ. Fallen angels, on the other hand, desperately seek to interact with spiritually vulnerable human beings, and their desire to make contact with us becomes a problem of the first order. Because of the malevolent demonic will toward man, the value of proper “angel discernment” cannot be overestimated. The practice of discernment, therefore, protects us as a shield against the deceptions of demons but also sensitizes us to the voice of God and His angels for our spiritual benefit. We should approach this task with a trusting heart, believing that it is indeed possible to become increasingly aware of the distinctions between good and evil spirits and that it is a spiritual habit that serves for our protection as well as our salvation.