Broken Bridges
Broken Bridges
Broken Bridges

We Are the Angels

From Broken Bridges by Chris Highland

Our friend burst into the youth group meeting with excitement. “I saw an angel at the door of the church!” he announced breathlessly. We ran out to see. No one was there, but his story sounded so believable. He told us a mysterious man was there, then vanished.

This happened during the period when our group was being split into the “church-going” believers and the “true” believers. There were the “ordinary” Christians and those of us who were “filled with the Spirit.” A division had begun to form between some who had received the “full gospel” and those who were “only” born again.

Can you sense our youthful confusion?

Several of us had attended Pentecostal meetings where we were convinced that true power of the Holy Spirit was “moving in mighty ways” among us with great emotion and drama. We received the gift of “tongues” and spoke in “angelic languages.” We had never felt the presence of God so deeply in our lives. It was so much more exciting than regular church!

When we brought this new “outpouring” back to the youth group, friends we’d known for years either joined the new movement or faded away. We felt badly, but we were confident that God had a special calling for us 16 and 17-year-olds.

Some of us started to see strange things. “Miracles” were happening all around us every day. One “sister” said she was saved in a car accident. Another claimed she had seen her deceased grandmother. A “brother” felt that God protected him from a fight at school. Another was certain God had helped him pass a test. I vividly remember lying in bed one night, pleading with the Lord to “show me a sign.” I became terrified with the sense that a “heavenly presence” was in my darkened room. I hid under the covers and begged God to take the angel away.

Many folks don’t know that in the Bible the word “angel” simply means “messenger.” These are not the feathered fantasy creatures as depicted in old paintings or in Hollywood films. A man or woman “appears” with an important message. Three of these messengers came to Abraham in Genesis to eat, drink, and have a conversation.

Special messengers spoke to Joseph and Mary before Jesus’ birth. Two men in dazzling clothes met the women at Jesus’ tomb.

We absorb these images from an early age. It’s not easy to “put aside childish things” in our imaginations.

In his excellent book, The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, Roy Morris, Jr. describes the poet’s compassionate work among wounded soldiers. Whitman touched the lives of thousands, North and South, in the hospitals of Washington, D.C. during the war. As Morris states, “He had lived his ideals. If he was not literally an angel—and he never claimed he was—he was a more than passable substitute.”1

“The better angels of our nature.” We’ve all heard this phrase that Abraham Lincoln spoke at the close of his first inaugural address. But what does it mean? How are “angels” a part of our nature?

Lincoln was making a futile attempt to keep the southern states from seceding from the Union. His inaugural words are memorable both for their eloquence and for their failure. The “bonds of affection” he spoke of weren’t strong enough to hold the Union together.

Whitman viewed the president as a kind of angel himself, though imperfect, down-to-earth, and quite mortal.

From time to time through my years in ministry, I would hear people refer to a nurse, social worker, or chaplain as an angel. I understood the sentiment but knew a person in crisis was simply thanking someone for being with them at the moment they most needed another person. It was a natural expression of gratitude for a very natural presence.

An oft-quoted verse from the thirteenth chapter of the book of Hebrews says that some believers had visits from messengers, but they didn’t notice. They had “entertained angels unaware.” Could that be because they were unaware that an ordinary person in their midst had something to teach? Or were they negligent in noticing their own “better angel” within?

This concept is suggested by the Hebrews passage. The community is instructed to love, to show hospitality to strangers, and to remember those in prison. This gives a twist to “love your neighbor.” Your neighbor, even a stranger, may have a message for you—something you need to learn or be reminded of.

The stories of angels have been used for centuries to “prove” divine activity in the earthly realm. If people believe there are messengers sent to earth from above, that’s their choice.

But why would we need them? Can those angels repair or build any bridges?

We are the angels, the bearers of creative new thoughts, who bring extraordinary messages to ordinary circumstances where our better natures are called to rise and act.

Chris Highland in Broken Bridges: Building Community in a World Divided by Beliefs
Copyright © 2020 Used with permission.

1 Roy Morris, Jr., The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2000), 7.

Author of a dozen books, Chris Highland was a Protestant minister for 14 years and an Interfaith chaplain for 25 years. Currently a Humanist Celebrant, he has a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Seattle Pacific University and an M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary. His wife, Carol, is a Presbyterian minister. Chris and Carol live in Asheville, North Carolina.