Angels are not dead people

In the fellowship hall after my grandmother’s memorial service, Jerry and I were looking at the memory board covered with old family photos. He pointed to a photo of Grandma with my cousin Lisa—Jerry’s wife, who had died a couple of years prior. He said, “There’s two angels for heaven.”

Photo by Courtney Francis

I nodded, and said nothing, because my first thought was, “No, angels are different.” But that was not the right time or place for a theology lesson.

If it comforts the bereaved to think of their departed loved ones as “angels,” I’m not going to deter them. I disable Editor Mode and remember they’re using the word metaphorically, as one might say of one who did you a huge service, “she’s an angel.”

The Bible occasionally uses the word “angel” — literally, “messenger,” — to describe prophets and priests and others who bring messages from God. But the principal meaning of the term is to describe “a race of spiritual beings of a nature exalted far above that of man, although infinitely removed from that of God” (Smith’s Bible Names Dictionary).

As Christians — and especially Christian writers — it is vital that we have our theology straight about angels. Jesus said we will be like angels — not actually become angels (Matt. 22:30, Mark 12:25).

For example, Martha Williamson, the executive producer of the TV series Touched by an Angel, ran into a problem with the show’s pilot episode. She inherited it from another producer, and it was wrong. Like the series Highway to Heaven before it, the original Touched by an Angel pilot featured an angel, but in the backstory the character had been a human who died and became an angel.

The pilot I saw portrayed angels as recycled dead people with power over life and death. They didn’t treat one another with respect, and the show gave the audience the option of believing in them. I felt anyone wanting to see a show about angels would expect to see heavenly beings who were enthusiastic about their work, did it with joy and integrity, and loved their Boss.

Williamson re-wrote the pilot and developed the series with a right understanding of angelic beings. It ran for nine years. In Hollywood, that’s a long time.

Angels are not the spirits of dead people. They are a different order of created being. As different from humans as humans are from squids. Maybe more so.

What novels, movies, or other media do you think have done an excellent job of truthfully depicting angels?


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

11 comments on “Angels are not dead people

  1. It’s hard to think of one offhand that gets it right. In the Sookie Stackhouse novels, a fairy woman says she’s working her way up to become an angel. To secular writers, angels are like vampires and dragons, mythical creatures that each writer can use in his own way.

  2. Dont for get they are incorporeal and in a state of confirmed holiness or confirmed evil. Good post. I have come accross so mant people with a wrong view od angels. They almost exalt them to a form of worship, much like the orient does with their ancestors (im basing this off of Mulan and am in no way attempting to be racist. I hate pc so im not going to find another word for orient). But my own grandma while she knew it or not was into angel worship.

    • Jacob — Yes, it’s sad, but a lot of people fall into that error without ever seeing the problem. Despite the fact that in the Bible, whenever someone bows down to an angel, the angel says, “Don’t.”

  3. I rarely see angels, or even demons depicted accurately in stories, even stories by Christian writers. It bothers me immensely. Sure, people are going to take some artistic license, as well they should, and among the secular community I have no issue with it, because they have no reason to believe in “real” angels, but it causes me no end to consternation when I see Christian writers take such extreme liberties that actually promote wrong theology.

  4. File under angels handled well: Lewis’s Mars Trilogy; Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” series; and, oddly enough, Battle Star Galactica.

  5. For what its worth, in my own personal beliefs, I don’t envision “angels” as a species or type of creature, such as a dog or cat. I regard it as a title to those sent as represenatives and messengers directly from God. (or respectively “the devil’s angels”) I guess the closest I can think of at the moment to define it as is “a special servant” sent on a specific mission. Coming into this discussion, I know it might not fall in line with the intended message. But this post has lingered in my thoughts since it was published.

    Similarly, I find the talk of “demon” curious, for unless I’m mistaken, the word doesn’t even appear in scriptures. If it means devils generically, that’s another word that I don’t view as a creature either, but a title. I fail to make sense of the idea of a righteous and just God creating something that IS evil, made to be evil because of some genetic/atomic make up.

    Somethings are created with less intelligence, but those of lower intelligence I believe God will judge according to their level of intelligence. However, can we say we have any earthly example of something created to be truly evil? If God were to create something to be wicked, that their nature is to be evil from creation, then wouldn’t it be God’s fault that the creature does evil? Then how can He punish the evil He created and call it Just?

    We may not understand all aspects of the situation, but I believe strongly in God’s Justice and in His allowance of choice to His creations.

    • Hi, Ren, I’m glad this post was so thought-provoking for you. That’s good to know!

      Certainly the term “angel” just means messenger, so God could appoint anyone he likes to fill that role. When Smith and others write about the beings that are another order of creation, they are talking about the heavenly creatures like those described by Ezekiel and John.

      I don’t know about the Old Testament, but the Greek word “Daimonion” (demon) does appear frequently in the New Testament. It’s defined as spirit or messenger of the devil.

      I agree that God doesn’t create beings that are inherently evil. Evil, whether in humans or fallen angels, is the product of turning away from Him.

      • Okay. Maybe I just misunderstood. I don’t think that people speaking of their dead loved ones are claiming some special power spot in heaven but simply the logic that they will continue to serve God as they have done so in life. We may not understand what type of work God has for us on the other side, but for the Creator of the Universe, I expect there’s plenty of work to be done and I know I intend to help out.

        Shows like Touched by An Angel etc are mortals fantasizing what if about God, similar to Sci Fi explores the what ifs of science. Most paranormal (even normal) carries some strong sedibus parabus (sorry for spelling), aka “all things held constant” assumptions/premises. Interesting ideas to explore but I try to be rather particular about what I swallow.

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