Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Someone to Watch Over Me

My friend believes in angels.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with people believing in angels per se; they feature in several religious traditions and I’m perfectly happy for folks to embrace that kind of thing if they so wish. 

This post is about beings known as angels, though, not about God as such.

My friend, however, takes it a step further (as indeed do lots of other people) and claims that he has a personal guardian angel looking out for him – we all do, apparently.

Angels on 24/7 security duty? 

Not sure about that.  I have questions.

Firstly, why would powerful supernatural beings (they must have some power or there would be no point them guarding us) take it upon themselves to watch over us mortals?    Don’t they have anything else/better to do?  Do they not have interests and relationships of their own to pursue?  Are they able to interact with others of their kind?  If not, then it would surely be a lonely vigil.  Most of us live unexciting lives which, while they inevitably contain some element of risk, are probably not going to tax the abilities of a supernatural being overly much.  So it would be a boring vigil as well.

Giving up your own interests and relationships for what could be an extremely boring and possibly lonely assignment is a big sacrifice, so why would they do it?

Perhaps they don’t have a choice: whichever supreme being is running the show could order it to be done and, obedient servants that they are, angels would (joyfully) comply.  So maybe they get gratification from serving.  Perhaps they are in constant communion with others of their kind and with the supreme being and so are not lonely after all.

Also, I guess if you’re an eternal being, the lifespan of a mortal is pretty insignificant and it would not feel to the angel like much time had passed before the next mortal to be looked after came along.   Maybe that keeps it interesting for them.

So, OK, let’s assume there are guardian angels who are content to look after each one of us.

From what are they guarding us, and how far does their remit extend?

Now if we go with the whole benevolent-angels-exist scenario, then it might well be the case that there are evil supernatural forces at work too – perhaps angels are warding us from these.  

This is a tough one to prove either way.  Most of us are about as psychic as a teaspoon (ordinary teaspoons, mind you, not the ones that hang out with Uri Geller; those guys can predict the Lottery and everything) so we are usually not able to sense these threats for ourselves.  Science has yet to prove or conclusively disprove the existence of supernatural entities of any kind.  We are not, therefore, in a position to confirm or deny the existence of these evil forces. 

I suppose we’ll just have to leave that as an open question for the time being and move on.

We do, however, have solid empirical evidence of evil in the physical world, so how much do our guardian angels protect us from this?

Not so much, it would seem. 

History is jam-packed with war, genocide, cruelty, crime, destruction, etc. 

Where were the guardian angels of those people trapped in the World Trade Centre in September 2001, for example?  Come to that, if everyone has a guardian angel, where were the guardian angels of the people flying the planes on that day?  The people in the building’s angels would presumably not have wanted the buildings to be struck by the planes.  The pilots’ and unwilling passengers' angels likewise.  So how did it happen?

OK, everyone has to die some time and maybe it was those people’s time to go, the angels knew it and so allowed it to happen (this is very fatalistic, incidentally, and whole books could be written on determinism and fate – and have been).  How do the angels know it’s someone’s time to go?

Maybe the angels were over-ruled by a higher power – a power whose motives here are questionable, surely. 

Now, at this point in any discussion like this, somebody usually advances the argument that mankind has free will and for angels to have prevented the planes hitting the towers, for example, that would be a breach of the terrorists’ free will and so is not allowed.

So the free will of a few terrorists carries more weight than the lives of thousands of people?


Would it have been an infringement of anybody’s free will if the buildings had stayed up for just a bit longer instead of collapsing?  Some people would still have died, inevitably, but nothing like as many.

Alright, what about non-lethal threats, are we protected from them at least? 

A few weeks ago, while out walking, I tripped and twisted the ligaments in my foot so badly that seven weeks on they’re still not right.  Should I have been prevented by my guardian angel from tripping?  If not (which presumably is the case since I did in fact trip) then why not?  How was the decision made?  Was I supposed to learn something valuable from this accident?  I must be a very dull pupil then because I’m not sure that I have – other than to wear stouter shoes next time I go walking (for the record, I was wearing trainers, not six-inch stillettos or anything like that - sensible enough shoes, I’d have thought).  Maybe I’m being unkind.  Maybe my guardian angel did intervene and stopped me from breaking my leg or neck or something.  (Aren’t I just the crummy ingrate?)

Maybe our angels guard us only from malevolent acts, not random accidents.  Tell that to the woman whose kid has just been mown down by a drunk driver (assuming the driver did not set out to kill, and so was acting irresponsibly rather than out of malice).

It could also be argued that life would be boring without some adversity in it.  Perhaps we need challenges to keep us on our toes (not my toes though, they’re still sore).

Agreed.  I suspect, however, that someone whose family has just been wiped out by disease and starvation could do with a lot less adversity and still be kept on their metaphorical toes.  Do the starving millions of Africa have guardian angels?  If so, what exactly are they doing?

Do they protect us from ourselves?

My angel-loving friend is a longtime smoker who has tried on numerous occasions to give up.  Now, we know that smoking is bad for health – a real threat to one’s wellbeing.  My friend desires to quit and be rid of this threat.  Cannot his guardian angel help him out with this?  It would be a protective act if ever there was one, and would be well aligned with his own desires in the matter, leaving his free will still gloriously intact. 

When all’s said and done, there can be only two possibilities why a guardian angel does not act to protect its charge from harm:

It is unwilling to.

It is unable to.

If the former, then we would have to hope that its decisions are both guided by our best interests and that they are sound.  Angels must have access to a great deal of information (both past, present and future) to know what’s ultimately in our interests.  What if my interest conflicts with yours?  Whose angel wins that one?

If the latter, and they are unable to act, then I’d have to ask what/who is preventing it and why.  I’d then want to address the questions above to that entity.

On balance, I’d have to say I’m not convinced we have personal guardian angels – if they exist in a universe with no supreme being then their actions seem rather arbitrary and their motives puzzling given the state of things.

if there is an omnipotent being, why would he need assistants anyway?

Apologies for a very long rambly post.

Does anybody out there have any opinions or experiences to offer?


  1. I'm exhausted after reading yours! lol

  2. I believe in Angels.

    Especially ones with chromium plated stahlhelms and Harley-Davidsons.


  3. "Science has yet to prove or conclusively disprove the existence of supernatural entities of any kind".

    I don't think science works like that. If no-one had ever thought up supernatural entities, it would never occur to scientists to look for them. We could think up anything (future winning lottery numbers written on the back of old furniture, etc) and say that science was "yet to prove or conclusively disprove their existence". Science would not have to do this as there is no rational reason to suppose there is anything to look for.

    I'm not an atheist, but... [Somebody's just come to the back door... I could go on for hours but I can't...]

  4. Eva - sorry to tire your out/

    Conan - Now those are angels we can all believe in.

    Dominic - I was just trying to cover the bases. We (or at least I) can't detect supernatural entities and our science apparently can't either, so in the case of angel protecting us from evil ones, it's all moot. I'm more prepared to believe in future winning lottery numbers on furniture - just as much as future winning lottery numbers on little bits of paper you buy at the newsagents. For the winners at least, those are real.

  5. Angels are obviously flighty characters:) I loved this post, it was a completely nourishing repast of reason regarding a totally unreasonable subject matter. Who needs angels when we have ruby slippers?

  6. ER - Thanks, this is a tricky subject to debate because it is hard to reason about stuff for which there's no empirical evidence and ruby slippers are definitely to be desired.

  7. perhaps they're more like politicians - vaguely pointing things in what they hope is the right direction but ultimately at the beck and call of bigger forces

    I'm not convinced that i believe in the existence of politicians either mind - they seem an unlikely bunch at best

  8. DFTP - Sadly, I think politicians are all too real. Their promises on the other hand....

  9. This is like The Problem of Evil (if God is omnipotent, then why evil? Does s/he hate us?). And just like with that sticky wicket I choose to bury my head in the sand & go "la la la la." Although I don't really believe in guardian angels - they kind of sound like Greek or Roman gods to me.

  10. Bug - Yes, it is essentially the same problem as the problem of evil. I also remember the answer I used to give: man has asserted his free will in sinning and spoiling the perfect world and now is reaping the consequences. God does not desire evil for us, etc, etc. And I'm ok with it, it's just this whole concept of an angel each, as it were, seems bonkers to me.

  11. I don't know anything, that's what I know about angels. But there's one on my blog today:
    Found: One set of angel wings

  12. What's that Humphrey? He pushed her?!.. But why?... Ohhhhhhhhhh!..

    My angel just told me that your angel was trying to tell you he was there! He says humans can be really dumb sometimes... :-)

  13. Watercats - i am indeed dumb and a crummy ingrate to boot. If my angel is listening, I apologise, but he really nneds to get a life!

  14. Couldn't resist adding a word here. I don't know the answer to any of your questions. From doing reiki, I do know with a kind of certainty that I can't really prove, that some kind of spirit beings exist and that they sometimes participate when I do the reiki. I know once - 30 or more years ago now - at a time when I was going through some really difficult times, I woke up to see a being of light in the room. I was an agnostic at the time, had not found reiki, but I have never for even a moment questioned the reality of this being who I thought of as Jesus at the time. It didn't speak and it didn't linger, but it did change my life and I can't even say how except that I know it did.

    You might enjoy reading CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD by Neale Donald Walsch. I think you would enjoy God's sense of humor and it might offer an answer to your questions.

  15. Raven, I would not claim for a minute that beings such as angels don't exist. The universe is a huge and fascinating place, I just wonder why such beings would take up all their time with the likes of a bunch of monkeys with shoes. Your encounter, all those years ago, is also fascinating and clearly had a profound effect on you. I think this is an area of our experience that deserves proper study but will probably never get it, ssdly.


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