One question I have always had is: why do angels seem to use symbolic imagery that people of their day can understand?
When I was attending Moody Bible Institude, and looking into evidence for the existence of the supernatural, I had a question:
Why do angels, or any supernatural encounters for that matter, never give people holistic scientific information that advances humanity?
This question is a common one among atheists, due to the simple observation that if God were good, and if all of heaven desires good toward mankind, why do they not simply use their advanced ways to solve world hunger, or disease, or rescue those kids trapped in a basement by their monsters of parents? It is a good question, for sure. Surely if these spiritual beings can heal someone who happens to get to a pool in time (John 5:4), they can lead an investigator to the perpetrator of a heinous crime or help a scientist solve Coronavirus. We have thousands, if not millions of stories of people who claim to have encountered beings who transfer some form of "high knowledge" to humankind, but in all these cases the appearance of these beings seems to be closer to a holographic projection than a real physical encounter (see the story of Gideon, for example). And the information they give always seems to be shrouded in vageries. The result of these encounters is stark and often inexplicable. In some cases, it defies reasoning even for the person who goes through it (Daniel 7:28).
In pre-scientific times, this question was a common one as well, summed up in this passage in Psalm 82, where the Elohim (plural) are assembled in the presence of God where he judges them for their lack of positive interaction with mankind (see discussion by Dr. Heiser on this:
“How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
Quite simply, the picture give is that the Highest God (Yahweh) himself is disappointed with the failures of other great spiritual beings as well. Here, nearly 3000 years after this Psalm was likely written, we have the same question unanswered.
And yet, the strange paranormal stories persist and keep occurring across the globe - both within and without of Christendom. And each time they happen the mystical explanations of the encounters always seem to indicate less of a desire for our physical long-term human condition than they do explaining how to achieve a "higher consciousness" or whatnot. Even Paul's writings indicate pointing to a higher understanding of oneness with Christ without really any logical explanation as to what it means to be one with Christ. The core of the interations is usually spiritual and mystical in nature, not directly physical (e.g. the Book of Revelation). There are a few exceptions, as there always are, but the mystical always seems to override any physical interest. Quite frankly, it seems like generally these supernatural beings are more interested in getting us to communicate with them for purposes that are not clear. They seem far less interested in the universal physical needs of humanity than we would hope. Or, if they do show interest, it tends to be in communicating that our human state is entirely our own responsibility.
In both the Bible and in ancient stories external to it, the appearance of supernatural beings seems consistently as if the supernatural realm were projecting into our realm symbols, inspirations, and nearly subconscious archetypes in a model that we just begin to grasp. It is as if they are teasing our consciousness, playing with ideas that run the gamit of our intellectual and spiritual capacities.
Consider for instance the book of Hosea. In Hosea, God appears to Hosea and immediately commands Hosea to take a promiscuous woman as a wife. The wife then strays. The goal of this? To communicate to Israel how their abandonment of Yahweh was similar to a straying woman. This is a deliberate analogy. While it could be argued Hosea just wanted a loose woman and needed an excuse, the fact he names his kids things like "no love" seems to indicate there is more strangeness going on than a guy who just wanted to get with a hot girl who liked some action. Not to mention, a promiscuous woman implies plenty of other guys seemed to have no problems with the behavior, so why Hosea bothered making an excuse is rather interesting when he could have just joined that group of dudes. Regardless, there is strong typology in here. Nevermind that Jesus is recorded as having said that a man who marries a divorced woman is guilty of adultery. Apparently if we believe the story an angel, heaven itself, instructed Hosea to get with a woman who had been with multiple lovers - purely as a symbolic message to the Jewish people. And the people of that day had no problem with this message.
To make this matter more confusing, Jesus Himself explicitly declared that a person who marries a divorced woman is committing adultery. To put this in context, imagine a person showing up at church on Sunday, saying God told him he was supposed to get married to a divorced woman as a sign of how God feels toward the church. Would anyone believe this person?
Stories like this are the kicker for me. This is not the first, or last, time that God has asked someone to do something "unclean". In the book of Ezekiel, an angel directs Ezekiel to eat food covered over human feces, but Ezekiel refuses because it is unclean and against Jewish law and tradition. The angel relents, in favor of Ezekiel's desire for purity. It was almost as if the angel cared less about following the law than Ezekiel did! Likewise, in the Book of Maccabees, we find the story of people who literally died in order to avoid eating pork, which was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. Yet, in the New Testament, Peter has a vision of angels asking him to eat these very unclean animals. As a good Jewish person, Peter refuses, but then a series of synchronistic events convince Peter that heaven was indeed declaring all foods clean. And apparently this symbolic imagery of declaring foods to be clean was connected with the concept that Gentiles - or non-Jewish people - were also now clean or acceptable to enter the kingdom of heaven. Apparently people of the day seemd to not think much further than this or of its implications, but took this revelation to Peter at face value. The revelation did not seem to be "unfair" to them since there is virtually no discourse in the New Testament about "what happened" to all the poor souls that up until that particular point in time were rejected from the kingdom of God for not being Jewish. Needless to say, the style of thinking that is used in the scriptural texts - in all of the Ancient Near East for that matter - is not linear or logical in a modern western sense. It was not scientific in the least.
Ancient people seemed to live in a state of constant intercommunciation with spiritual beings, where moral positions and dreams and dread about the future, were subject to change at any time depending upon human behavior or high decisions made in the heavens. Morality was a gift, to help mankind avoid chaos, not a mindless chore. As such, this dynamic ability of all living beings to change their minds was an integral part of the human experience of life.
Angels use books, instead of iPads. They ride around on horses, instead of in cars. They carry flaming swords, instead of brandishing guns or lasers. They appear as men or women, or as multi-faced creatures with odd wings (a la Ezekiel's encounters). Early on, angels do not even have names, but when the Jewish people encountered Bablonian thought and the Zoroastrians, their writings now incorporated names like Raphael and Gabriel into their canon of thought. Angels take time getting to places, have enemies they fight and argue against, and otherwise exhibit a strange mixture of oddly "low" human technology mixed with fantastical dreamlike visions. They are, quite simply, awe inspiring in their complexity and leave their contacts frozen with fear and troubled for weeks after an encounter.
The above observation is one that Jacques Vallee made in his book Passport to Magonia, and is also one that Michael Heiser - an Old Testament and Ancient Near Eastern scholar - has made about the style of writing of Hebrew scriptures. So when this last year I discovered both of them, and noticed I was not alone in these observations, I breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently this is not new.
What is interesting, is that Michael Heiser points out that this apparent anomoly was known about interpretation of ancient scripture even before Jesus came on the scene. In fact, in Jewish thought it was considered a form of worship to debate and discuss the contradictions within the text. There was considerable arguments over who was referenced in what texts. Was an angel God, was God an angel? Is the "angel of the Lord" in Joshua the same being as those that appeared to Ezekiel? Are they different beings? Are Satan and Belial the same creature or different creatures? Is the Book of Enoch, which expands widely on the narrative in Genesis 6 about angelic beings having kids with women, an acceptable narrative or was it invented? These questions are not new, and have been debated for over two thousand years.
Clearly, then, these supernatural stories fall into one of three camps. Either supernatural beings are the mental projections of human imagination (a common interpretation among skeptical atheists), they are trickster-like beings that play with our consciousness (a common UAP theory, a la Jacques Vallee), or are they more advanced interdimensional beings that project onto our consciousness what best makes sense to the receiver at the time, for purpose we cannot understand except in hindsight?
I am going to make a proposal, for the sake of discussion, of the following:
It is a well-known trope in stories of "revelation" that people receive information they are "not allowed to share". This is one of the most frustrating aspects of the phenomenon. I have never met a person who had a strange dream that said "yeah, I'm not allowed to talk about it". Yet, for thousands of years, people continue to have "encounters" with beings who reveal information that is somehow top secret. Even the apostle Paul says he "knew a man" who was caught up in the third heaven and heard things not allowed to be talked about. What could these things possibly be?
Jacques Vallee made the observation that it appears these encounters are a form of a "control mechanism" that works on the bedrock of human thinking, to course-correct us in a pre-planned direction. In this process, Jacques has observed that there is a strong element of deception in these encounters. This falls in line quite nicely in the conclusions made by most of the Judeo-Christian religions that a demonic cohort of beings are actively involved in tricking humanity into chaos, war, and suffering.
Regardless of the form of these beings, in the end what matters the most as it relates to our lives is their intention and the outcome. It is for this reason that I think the story of Jesus explaining that we can know a tree by its fruit is honestly the most accurate symbol - or archetype - of our observations about the spiritual realm. The idea is that we cannot prove the source of a revelation through some rigorous mental process. We cannot tease it apart as to its cause, but we can only observe what it causes in the world and then conclude as to whether the source is good or not based on the fruit it produces. When Jesus' disciples came to Jesus and said there was a group of people casting out demons in Jesus' name, but they are not "with our crew" so to speak, Jesus rebuked them, pointing out that clearly they were doing it from good intentions. Do not stop people who are bearing good fruit, and doing so for the causes Jesus taught.
There was no lengthy discourse by Jesus about asking what creeds this "other crew" accepted, or analyzing their theological standpoint on issues, there was simply the observation of the spiritual effects of the person's work as a sign of its source or of heaven's blessing.
It is almost as if there was a Christian assumption that all of our mental models regarding spiritual things are wrong, so the specifics of your theology matters far less than the effects heaven brings into your heart and life.
For myself, I have found this to be a consistent assumption within the New Testament in particular. There is a quite simple assumption that people who are serving the efforts of the good side in the spiritual battle are going to have evidence in their life of the sacred and chosen Spirit guiding their way in synchronistic ways that logic cannot fully explain. The end result is a cornucopia of supernatural events mixed with an outpouring of the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul called it. A person guided by heaven, regardless of how weird and at first illogical the revelation seemed, will - sometimes against their will - end up doing more for the cause of faith than could be imagined. Better a beggar with no education with an angel guiding him to save a life than a rich, educated person who knows a million ways to avoid charity.
Heaven is not interested in giving us certain information, and is actively opposed to giving us information that could influence or inflate our ego. In this there is mystery: that a revelation would be given to a receiver who neither fully comprehends it nor tries to make up a farcical explanation. The humble person simply accepts the revelation for what it is, is left baffled, and uses what little of it they can to do the work of helping the poor, the needy, and the broken of spirit. They let the symbolic, like good medicine, work its way into the depths of our psyche, where poetry works better than prose. In this there is a form of beauty that leaves a sense of fear at our inadequacy combined with an awe at the wisdom of God.