For those who believe in guardian angels, it is easy to feel that one is never alone. But is the concept of these heavenly protectors backed up by scripture? This week's clergy discuss modern-day interpretations of guardian angels.
Father David Regan, associate pastor, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Smithtown; chaplain for the Catholic Campus Ministry, Stony Brook University:
Both the Old and New Testaments point to this reality. Among the numerous angelic encounters in the Old Testament, we hear in Psalm 91:10-13 that "no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the serpent; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot."
We can look at Matthew 18:10: Jesus says, "See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven."
Those are only two references among many.
St. Augustine says that the term angel refers to their "office" or their duty. This would lead us to conclude based on the scriptural passages above that there is a created being that is wholly spiritual, whose only mission is to guard, guide, love and protect us on behalf of God.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, guardian angels are part of the category among the nine choirs called ministerial (the others are contemplative and governmental). They minister to us individually without reservation or hesitation.
Imagine that for a moment. Angels are created not over time, but in one moment. Which means that your guardian angel and mine have been waiting for us for a long time to be conceived in our mother's womb. They want to love, guard, guide and protect us, so that they can enjoy eternal life with us forever. That inspires me to have a devotion to the guardian angels, and I hope it does for everyone else.
Pastor Neal Frey, Huntington Assembly of God:
Angelic beings no doubt exist. There is no doubt that angels have a purpose and a function. They help and protect, reveal information, and at times serve as a guide. Other times they have been sent to minister to God's people.
One example is that of Elijah. In I Kings 19:5-7, "Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, 'Arise and eat.' Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, 'Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.' "
So not only did God send an angel to one of his servants to provide food and drink, but encouragement, as his journey ahead would be great.
Peter was in prison and in Acts 12 it tells us that the angel hit Peter on his side and told him to get up. The chains fell off his hands, and then the angel told him to follow him out of the prison. Once outside the gate, the angel left him. So Peter, when he came to himself, says that "The Lord sent his angel to deliver me."
Was this his guardian angel? The scripture is silent. It cannot be emphatically answered from the scripture whether each believer has a guardian angel assigned to them.
Cantor Israel Gordan, Huntington Jewish Center, Huntington:
There is a scriptural basis for angels, and that they acted in guardian ways in the Hebrew Bible.
There are many rabbinical interpretations that guardian angels exist today, but not in the way they existed in the Bible.
We believe that whatever you do creates an angel. An angel is not the modern interpretation of a baby with wings. Nor is it God or an intermediary pushing you toward good and positive things in the world and protecting you from bad things. In post-scripture rabbinical interpretation, a guardian angel is not a physical representation. Rather, it is a positive inclination.
Just as I don't believe in God as an old man with a beard, I don't believe in the idea of guardian angels who push you out of the way of an oncoming bus.
Every time someone does a mitzvah, it creates an angel. My good deeds are my angels. Your good deeds are your guardian angels. There also is definitely the idea of evil inclination pulling you in the wrong direction in Judaism. You could think of your bad deeds as your demons.
What has changed from the Bible is the angels no longer taking an active role, physically doing things today.