Monday, December 23, 2013

Strange Mormon Customs #10: Angels

An angel came to Mary and told her she was going to have a baby without a man's help. He told her this baby was going to be the Savior of the world.

People think this is wonderful.

Messengers from heaven appeared to shepherds on a hill. The angels told the shepherds they would find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, sleeping in an animal's feed box, in a barn, and that he would someday be a king.

People think this is awe-inspiring.

Two heavenly beings appeared to a young boy in a grove of trees in upstate New York when he prayed to know which of the many churches he should join. They told him to join none of them and then told him that in time he would restore the church the way it had been when Christ was on the earth.

People think this is crazy.

For many people it is believable that angels appeared in biblical times, but not now.  But Mormons are a strange lot. We still believe in miracles.

This is not because we are ignorant or uneducated. In fact, there are studies that show that the more education a Latter-Day Saint has the more believing they are. (source) To take the modern-day angels out of our church would be like unscrewing all the lug nuts on a car. The wheels would fall right off.  If Mormons have the audacity to claim the authority to baptize, heal the sick, and perform marriages that are binding not only on earth, but also in heaven, then we must say we got it from the source. This can't be accomplished without angels.

Joseph Smith and His Angels

The heavenly scene depicted above was the first of many heavenly beings with whom Joseph Smith conversed, face to face. The next angel Joseph saw woke him up three times in the middle of the night. His name was Moroni. You might recognize him--he is famous. He is the one you see on our temple spires.

Other angels that appeared to Joseph Smith were John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Elijah, Elisha and Moses.

I know--it boggles the mind.

But you see, Joseph Smith was not asked to create a new church. He was asked to restore the old one. If the church was going to be renewed it would need prophets, apostles, the priesthood, and keys. This restoration was brought, piece by piece, by the hands of angels. (We don't believe they have wings.)

There was an order to this. Each angel delivered to Joseph the priesthood or priesthood keys with which he had been entrusted when he was on the earth. "Priesthood" is the authority to act in God's name. "Keys" control access to and use of priesthood authority.  John the Baptist gave Joseph the authority to baptize. Elijah gave him the keys to sealing families together for eternity. Moses gave him keys for the Gathering of Israel.

If you find yourself raising your eyebrows about now, this next section is for you:

Why People Don't Believe In Angels Anymore

  • For starters, our society is advanced, not primitive. We make fire by flipping a switch. We do not need a hocus-pocus of supernatural beings to satisfy our questions about the cosmos. All we need is Google. We take more vitamins and grow bigger brains and the bigger our brain becomes the smaller our heart gets because we can't believe in anything that can not be scientifically proven.
  • There is no need for angels anymore. We've had enough angels. All the messages have been sent. What more is there to say?
  • We have trust issues. We don't trust what other people say because there are too many lunatics out there who want to take our money or make us look like fools.
  • Perhaps we don't want to believe because believing in a heavenly messenger would probably require some action on our part. Historically, visitations from angels often compel people out of their comfort zones. (That is probably why the first thing that angels tell people is Fear Not!) Like Mary and the shepherds, sacrifices had to be made in order to do what the angel asked them to do. I think nowadays we would prefer an angelic experience to be more like watching TV: exciting, full of light, and ultimately turn-off-able.  No special mission to fulfill, no assignment, no great sacrifice to make. Just something to satisfy our curiosity that heaven exists and that when we die we aren't going to just poof! into nothing. 

If these are our reasons than we as a society are missing out. There is still much to learn about God and the depth of love He has for us.  I believe there is a need for angels to help us--now more than ever. I also believe that angels get frustrated with us for not opening our hearts to them.

Angels Who Minister

I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts and mine angels round about you, to bear you up. 
D&C 84:88

There is a story in the Old Testament about Elisha and his servant. One night the Syrian army came and surrounded the city where Elisha was sleeping. When his servant woke and saw the army he went to his master in fear. "Alas, my master! How shall we do?" he said. But Elisha was calm and told him to not worry, "for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." I'm sure that the servant was puzzled by this reply. So Elisha did a great and wonderful thing. He asked the Lord to open the young man's spiritual eyes. And when his eyes were opened he saw that God was protecting Elisha, for the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire.
(2 Kings 6)

We think of angels as appearing and disappearing, but I think they are always there.  Brigham Young said, "If the Lord would permit it, and it was his will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes."  

Jeffery R. Holland adds, "Usually such beings are not seen. Sometimes they are. But seen or unseen they are always near. Sometimes their assignments are very grand and have significance for the whole world. Sometimes the messages are more private. Occasionally the angelic purpose is to warn. But most often it is to comfort, to provide some form of merciful attention, guidance in difficult times."  

So to whom to angels appear? It says in the Book of Mormon that they appear to those with "strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness." Or in other words, angels appear to those whom God trusts.

Have angels ceased to appear unto the children of Men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved? 
Behold I say until you, Nay. For it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.  
Moroni 7:36-37

How I love the Christmas story. The miraculous pregnancy, the star, the angels. It is the Great Hope of all of us who believe in Christ that this story is true. The gospel is good news and now there is more good news than ever. After all, if you believed miracles happened then, than miracles can happen now.

Source for all images in this post