-Rev Melissa Fain-
I'll be the first to say this subject makes me uncomfortable. I'm a monotheist. That means I believe there is one God. I cannot wrap my head around angels and demons and keep a monotheistic view on God. I know some of you might try to push back that angels and demons are not called "gods," they are called angels and demons, or some level above human, but that's a semantics game. By any other faith tradition angels and demons would be considers lesser gods in a pantheon of divine beings. In my mind, (and this is my belief, so don't feel like you have to follow it) either demons and angels are an image of God, and part of the many in one, or we are a polytheistic (we believe in many gods) faith, or angels and demons don't exist. These are the only three options I personally have to understand this topic. That's my grain of salt before I jump into the text. So, let's begin!
Today's understanding of Angels and Demons might look something like this:
The Ancient Near-east perspective was less stark. Demons could be good, and angels could be bad. In fact, women of the Ancient Near-east had a fear of angels, because the cultural understanding believed they often came with bad news or actions. (Something to consider as we move into Advent, and read about Mary and Gabriel.)
Demons had a similar vague purpose. There's a theory that the Persians moved the theological spectrum over to complete evil for the Israelite's belief of demons. Really, any sort of demonic understanding didn't really form until they came back to Israel from their exile in Babylon. I find this extremely interesting because pre-exile we have a people concerned with how God acts in the world. Post-exile, we have a people concerned with how evil manipulates the world. Considering the Babylonian exile was a time they felt separate from God (God lived in the temple, and the temple was in Jerusalem) I can see how their focus would drastically change.
What are they?
Whether we are talking about demons or angels, their appearance is vague. This shouldn't be surprising, because with few exceptions we don't get good descriptions of any biblical character. Cherubs, which are also vague but because of the numerous contradictory descriptions, are usually winged. This is probably where we got the idea that angels have wings. (Although there is nothing biblical saying cherubs are angels.) The pitchforks shown in the devil's hand might actually draw to the flesh hooks used by priests for sacrifices, as both have three prongs. Also, like I mentioned in previous posts, the goat like look of devils might go back to the scapegoat and Azazel.
So, biblically, what do they do?
Angels are primarily messengers. There is an "Angel of the Lord" specifically called to prepare the appearance of God. Therefore, it's always to bring really good or really bad news. Angels can also praise, and watch over creation. If you're an angel named Michael, you can also kick some butt and take some names while you're at it.
Demons are a bit more illusive. It seems anything bad can and would be blamed on the demonic. Evil spirits: demons. Minions of Satan: demons. Evil in the world: demons. Mental illness: demons. Natural disasters: demons. All the front parking spaces unavailable: demons. I'm joking about that last one, but you get the idea. As our scientific knowledge has grown, our belief that demons are to blame decreased. Like most of humanity would not blame mental illness on demons. Most would see mental illness from a much more sympathetic slant. We also have a different view of natural disasters, as in some cases humanity's actions are partly to blame. In fact, the real demons might just be in the mirror, as we are capable of great damage to one another and the world. No matter what we think about demons, there are new testament scriptures of Jesus casting them out. I take that to mean no matter what form, we turn to God to destroy the evil in our hearts. Maybe that's an actual evil spirit, or maybe that's the evil that naturally exists in our heart. Either way, we should always turn to God.
Well, that's what I got. What about you? Wanna expand the definition? Do you believe in demons and angels? Why or why not? Leave a comment and let's talk!