FASCINATION with angels has run at high tide in recent years,
and there's little sign that it's letting up. One can read angel
books, mail angel postcards, mark the days on angel calendars,
attend workshops on guardian angels and, of course, tune in to the
CBS dramatic series "Touched by an Angel" every Sunday night.
In part, this is a sign of the times, a feature of renewed
interest in spiritual matters, an end-of-century trend that has
also sparked publishing booms centered on saints, miracles and
(The trend occasionally takes some esoteric detours, as in the
case of the UFO-obsessed cult Heaven's Gate, which developed a
science fiction-like cosmology in which extraterrestrials replaced
Interest in angels draws on a deep well of tradition. In
medieval times, Jewish and Christian writers composed elaborate
commentaries on the subject. Joan of Arc said she had communicated
with angels, as did the poet William Blake.
King James I wrote a book on fallen angels and kept an official
angelologist at his court. "Touched by an Angel" has won a large
following by paying respects to tradition while steering a course
within the bounds of contemporary nonsectarian interest.
The show's angels, led by the wise Tess (Della Reese), appear
to and disappear from human view, and speak of God with an intimacy
that indicates clear knowledge of the divine. All this falls within
the bounds of Scripture.
So, too, does the fact that Tess and her associates can
interact with humans while concealing their otherworldly nature. In
Genesis, Abraham welcomes three angelic visitors to his tent
without realizing who they are. The author of Hebrews 13:2, in the
New Testament, warns, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for
thereby some have entertained angels unaware."
But when they announce themselves, the angels on television
speak more bluntly than their biblical counterparts often do - a
trait perhaps explained by the fact that relatively few people
today expect to meet visitors from heaven.
"I'm an angel," Tess said, in one recent episode, speaking to a
mildly startled middle-class couple. Her announcement served as a
prelude to encouraging them to mend their ways, to be honest, not
The show lasts an hour; so, too, does the human-angel
interaction. And therein lies another subtle but important
difference between the Bible's angels and television's.
In Scripture, angels tend to be beings of relatively few words.
Nor do they linger. Also, as God's emissaries, they bear messages
that in the specific circumstances are greater than any mortal
(even a prophet) could communicate. …