Thursday, July 29, 2010

Angels are Scary

So, I was a counselor at Hartland Jr. high camp last week. That, and the upcoming high school week, will likely be a source of notes for some time. Just thought I'd let you know.
At camp, one of the talks was about angels, and the speaker pointed out that almost every time an angel appears to someone, the first thing they say is "Do not be afraid." On the way back to the cabin, one of my jr. highers, thinking about this, said to the group, "Since everyone's so afraid of angels, maybe there's a reason. Like, maybe angels aren't as beautiful or awesome as we think."

That statement interested me. It illustrates a couple things about our culture, about the way we think. Why would someone be afraid of something incredibly beautiful and awesome like an angel? It seems like a no-brainer using our modern understanding of awesomness and beauty--we wouldn't be afraid of something like that. However, using a Christian understanding of awesomness and beauty, it is equally as obvious that we would be absolutely terrified of something truly beautiful and awesome.

I'm not going to talk about awesomness, because anyone reading this blog knows how almost everyone misuses the word awesome on a regular basis. It is meaningless in popular culture, but most Christians know that it means something much greater when used in the Bible. So we'll move right on to Beauty.

There is a medical condition called photophobia. Photophobia is a sensitivity and aversion to bright light. Light can cause discomfort, dizziness, and outright pain to those suffering from this condition. Light, normally a very good thing, without which it would be almost impossible to function, can actually cause harm and pain to people suffering from photophobia. I mention this because I'm pretty sure everyone on the planet, everyone who has ever existed, suffers, as a result of the fall, a spiritual photophobia.

When people think of beauty, they think "pleasurable to look at." This seems to be the basic definition of beauty, even among Christians. But it's wrong. See my post "Nature-Objectively Beautiful." In my last post, I talked about how we are fallen. This holds true for everything about us, even our sight. Therefore, what is pleasing to our fallen, broken eyes may not, in fact, be actually beautiful. We may look at something that is really, objectively ugly, and yet see it as beautiful. I believe this happens to some degree every time we choose a lesser good or an evil over God, the ultimate Good. Our fallenness also means that what is truly beautiful may not be pleasurable to look at, at least until we are finally fixed by our Maker. Here's the tie-in to photophobia. Beauty can and does cause fear and distress to those who behold it. Examples? Look at almost any time someone sees an angel in the New or Old Testament. Look at when the disciples see Jesus after his resurrection. Look at John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, falling down as though dead at the sight of the glorified Christ. Are we to say that Christ glorified was not beautiful? Was he not awesome? Was he not glorious? It is clear that he was beautiful, awesome, and glorious. It is equally clear that John, an apostle, a personal friend of Christ, author of two divinely inspired works, was terrified when Beauty exposed itself to his fallen senses.
Summary: Beauty does not mean "Appealing to the fallen, broken senses of humanity." Beauty is an absolute. it is true that earthly beauty often does appeal to our senses. However, heavenly divine beauty, accompanied by the glory of heavenly divine things, do not appeal to our broken, sinful senses. What is sinful cannot comfortably endure what is holy. And that's why angels are scary. Not because they are not beautiful, but because they are.

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