I have increasingly noticed Christians (emphasis Christians) who speak of a dead person becoming an angel -or- that the dead person will now “guide them” in life somehow – perhaps serve like a guardian angel in their life or influence their life’s decisions. What?! I’m flummoxed. Again, I am addressing Christians who are saying these things.
Let’s address the angel issue first. I had a multi-part series that presents a biblical view of angels. The first post in that series is: Angelology: what do you know about angels? (part 1) From part 3 in that series, I address this issue:
Do children (or other human beings for that matter) become angels when they die? No. Angels are created beings, in contrast to God the Creator. Humans and angels are distinct and separate creatures. You will not become an angel when you die because you are not an angel now!
Some verses to consider are: Psalm 148:2-5; John 1:1-3; and Colossians 1:16. Angels are a higher order of creature than humanity, as Hebrews 2:9 states that when Jesus became human he was made “a little lower than the angels.” I suppose Matthew 22:30 could be misinterpreted by some, but it does not say humans become angels. Rather it says that humans in the resurrected state will have something in common with angels – they will not marry.
The angel issue is clear cut. The next issue is a little more challenging to address, and involves what theologians call the intermediate state. When we die, our spirit leaves our body and awaits the final resurrection – at which time our body and spirit will be reunited. This is basic Christian teaching. Those who have trusted Christ will be resurrected and then live forever on the new heaven and earth. (Those who have not trusted Christ will have another eternal destiny.)
But the intermediate state between these times? What is going on then? We can infer things from various scriptures. In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Philippians 1:23, Paul says that to depart our body in death is to be present with the Lord. Several things can be noted here: We depart our body, continue to exist, and we are with the Lord. Jesus told the thief on the cross “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Today. In paradise. With Jesus.
Please note that I am not getting into an overly detailed explanation with this aspect. See a doctrine or systematic theology book for a more thorough discussion. See this entry from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
The point to be made here is this: I don’t see biblical evidence that our bodiless spirits will roam around on the fringes of this world. Nor is there evidence for soul sleep. If the person trusted Christ, they are with Him, and awaiting the final resurrection.
Someone will bring up the medium in 1 Samuel 28. What about that? Note that the medium “cried out at the top of her voice” (vs 12). She may have been a fraud, who was genuinely shocked to see a real spirit show up! God permitted an exception or anomaly in bringing Samuel from the dead in order to make a point to Saul. I think these so-called spirits are generally demonic or lying spirits connected to Satan. The Bible has various warnings about these things.
Oh boy, now I’ve brought in complex side issues! To get back to the point…It is not Christian teaching to say that your dead loved one is an angel or will somehow be watching over you. They are with the Lord.
And humans remain human after death. I suppose that maybe a human in the intermediate state might be able to look down from heaven and observe certain things, but I don’t think so. Any theological thoughts out there about that? **See the comments after the post for further thoughts.
My concern is this: We need to be careful that we are not applying incommunicable attributes of God to humanity. [Incommunicable attributes belong to God alone.]
This is wrongly done with angels. For example, some people pray to angels. But prayer should be directed to God alone. Angels can not mediate for us. Jesus is our only mediator (I Timothy 2:5).
In a similar way, are we thinking that our dead loved one will suddenly have God’s attribute of omniscience or all-seeing, and be able to look down and observe us – even influence or help us? As Christians, we believe that it is God who guides our steps. Jesus intercedes for us (Romans 8:34). Angels are servants of God that can also assist people in need.
Why would we be looking for our dead aunt or grandma to do these things?
The idea that our dead loved ones are “out there” and can influence us seems, to me, to be a watered down view from Spiritism or Spiritualism. These things are not remotely Christian, but rather occultist, and developed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Wikipedia has a good overview of Spiritism.
Update: Shirley Taylor recently shared on twitter that: “Believing the dead are in heaven looking down at us indicates when we get to heaven we spend our days watching the soap opera ‘Days of our lives’ play out on earth.”
– What an interesting point! Yes, it is a really low view of heaven to think we will be watching earth much of the time. God has much better in store for us!
Finally….Some might think that I am too analytical in considering what people say. If someone says that a dead child is now an angel or that a dead adult loved one will “act like” a guardian angel – they are just trying to be comforting. That is all.
But why comfort someone with…uncertainties, inaccuracies, half-truths, or outright lies?
Wouldn’t it be better to comfort them with truth?
That baby or child is with Jesus. The Christian loved one is with Jesus. What could be better than being with Jesus? As Paul said, to be with Christ is far better.
And if we are uncertain about whether the individual in question had accepted Christ, that would be another post. But we can not know for sure where someone stood with God. Only God knows that. They may have trusted Christ unaware to us. And God’s grace is big. I am not a universalist, and I believe that a personal response of faith in Christ is necessary, but God may have ways of reaching people we are unaware of. Place your hope in that, and don’t make unwarranted assumptions.
*Adding this link from a mom who lost a child, and her thoughts about: Is My Son My “Guardian Angel”?