Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Angels - who are they and what do they do?

       Many years ago, when making an official visit to a city in the North of England, Queen Elizabeth II was accompanied by a troop of ceremonial guards. Resplendent in their glossy beaver skin caps and bright scarlet tunics, the soldiers were standing rigidly to attention outside the city’s magnificent Town Hall.
       “How lovely to see the Guards here in the North,” said the Queen to the Lord Mayor’s first lady.  She was simply making polite conversation, but, rather than simply nodding in agreement, the unfortunate lady made an embarrassing blunder. “Yes,” she replied, with a wistful sigh, “but they only come when YOU’RE here.”
       This remark was met by a raised eyebrow and a withering royal response: “Well, of course,” explained Her Majesty, “After all, they are my guards.”
       So what, you may think, does this anecdote have to do with angels?  The answer is simple. Just as these soldiers are assigned to serve the British monarch, angels too enjoy an immense privilege; that of carrying out the express will of the One who created them - the Universal Sovereign. 
       And, like the royal guards, angels cannot be ‘summoned’ whenever we humans need a parking space, want to know the future, or require personal protection when boarding a Number 7 bus. Nor do celestial beings help our favourite teams to score those vital goals - not unless commissioned to do so by Almighty God who, as we all know, is strictly impartial when it comes to the World Cup.
       So, while angels can and do aid people in extreme circumstances, this is almost always with a specific purpose in view. No human can claim to have their own personal guardian angel; if that were the case, why are some people protected while others are not?

What are angels? 

        Angels (or ‘messengers’) are invisible and powerful spirits, who are also referred to in the Bible as “Morning stars,” “Holy myriads,” and “Sons of the true God”.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “they have not material bodies as men have; they are either human in form, or can assume the human form when necessary. They are called ‘holy’ in Mark 8:38 and ‘elect,’ 1Tim 5:21, in contrast with some of their original number, Matt 25:41 who ‘sinned,’ 2 Pet 2:4,’ ‘left their proper habitation,’ Jude 6.....Angels are always spoken of in the masculine gender, the feminine form of the word does not occur.”
       Created long before mankind, there are a great many angels, as testified by the prophet Daniel who saw “a thousand thousands ministering to God, and ten thousand times ten thousand that kept standing before Him.” (Dan 7:10; Jude 14) 
       Each angelic being is an individual with free will, but in the scriptures only two are mentioned by name: Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?” and Gabriel who appeared to the virgin Mary in the gospel of Luke. Other angels mentioned in the Bible remain anonymous, no doubt to discourage men from worshipping them, and also because they are sent in God’s name rather than their own. Despite being invisible, when angels did become manifest to faithful humans in Bible times, they either appeared as ordinary humans or as awe-inspiring creatures who could be extremely beautiful.
        As previously touched upon by Vine, some angels forsook their heavenly positions to co-habit with human women on the earth. After the flood, however, the ability to take on human form was removed from these unfaithful beings, now commonly known as demons who cause all sorts of havoc on the earth.

Order and Rank 
        Again using the army as an analogy, angels have ranks, the foremost being the (one and only) Archangel Michael, also described by Daniel as the “great Prince who is standing in behalf of God’s people. Michael is thought by some to be the angel who led Israel through the wilderness (Ex 23:20-23).
       Seraphs (“burning ones”) command a high position around God’s throne (Is 6:2,6), shielding their faces and feet with two of their three pairs of wings, denoting their humility and respect for their holy position. Their role includes declaring God’s glory and, possibly, helping to cleanse sin from God’s people. 
       Cherubs, far from being the chubby-cheeked infants portrayed by Renaissance painters, are extraordinary spirits with immense power. Two cherubs were posted to guard the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve were evicted (Gen 3:24), and the angel who later became Satan fell from an eminent position due to his overarching pride (Ez 10:1-22)
       The rest of the Angels serve as agents, messengers and deputies of the Divine will, protecting and delivery God’s people and destroying the wicked. 
Super Powers 
       Described as “mighty in power,” angels are incredibly strong; in one day, a single angel killed 185,000 Assyrians when they came against Israel. (2 Kings 19:35)
       It was an angel who, as described in the book of Daniel, prevented the three Hebrews from burning to death in the fiery furnace when they refused to bow to a Babylonian image, while the mouths of the lions were kept firmly shut after Daniel himself was thrown into their den as an appetising snack!
       Angels are fast too, travelling at speeds beyond the limits of physical possibility. And, of course, they’re highly intelligent, being able to communicate with each other and to speak various languages. Even so, they don’t know everything and, in common with humans, there are some things they cannot understand. (1 Pet 1:12)

A Grand Purpose 
       Compassionate and intensely interested in human affairs, angels rejoice when sinners repent and look forward to seeing humans living peacefully and happily on the planet as intended. To this end, they have relayed messages to the writers of the Bible and are still helping with the preaching work established by first century evangelisers which continues to the present.
       Although they no longer appear visibly as in the days of the apostles, angels are still extremely active, doing God’s will by supporting His servants in the spreading of the everlasting good news.


Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Universe – by Chance or by Design?

         Pre-Charles Darwin, faith in a Creator went virtually unchallenged, the only disputes being those relating to Church doctrine and Bible interpretation. And for many years after HMS Beagle dropped anchor following its epic five-year journey, God remained in the ascendancy; even converts to evolution continued to believe He had triggered the entire process, sitting back on the sixth day to watch how life unfolded. 

       Times have changed. Over the last century, modern atheism has gradually but effectively used Darwin’s theory to try and eradicate the Almighty altogether, leaving all but the strongest faiths faltering with uncertainty. The British government has proved a powerful accessory to the secular cause by insisting on evolution being taught in all state-funded schools and universities. While still selling itself as a God-fearing nation, America too has its detractors, as atheists reject religious symbols, prayers and any practices which may indicate the existence of a Divine Being. 
So is the world now sinking into complete Godlessness? Has the hand that parted the Red Sea been cut short? Have we relegated the Bible to the SciFi/Fantasy section of the library?

      Scientists deal in facts. So let’s do that. Let’s examine a few facts which may redress the balance.


       Subject to physical laws and natural constants that seem uniquely tailored to support the planets, and contrary to Big Bang or Chaos theories suggesting it all just happened by accident, our Universe is so finely-tuned that even the slightest changes could destroy life on earth. Electromagnetism, gravity, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force affect everything in the planetary system, working together in perfect harmony to keep whole galaxies in their place.

      Think about it: How could NASA chart a course for a rocket without the precision of the planets, allowing them to time their orbits to a millionth of a second? How else could astronomers predict the next eclipse or meteor shower? As it is, the sun, moon and stars have a set pattern to keep themselves and the earth rotating smoothly. Did they evolve, or is there a superior intelligence out there?

      Many scientists agree with John Polkinghorne, previously a physicist at Cambridge University: “When you realize that the laws of nature must be incredibly finely tuned to produce the universe we see, that conspires to plant the idea that the universe did not just happen, but that there must be a purpose behind it.” 

      This view is supported by Australian physicist Paul Davies who says: “There is no doubt that many scientists are . . . scornful of the notion that there might exist a God, or even an impersonal creative principle.” He added: “Personally I do not share their scorn. . . . I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, . . . an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama.”


      Of all the proofs put forward as evidence of design, this for me is perhaps the most telling. The sheer complexity of DNA, for instance, resulting from countless chemical reactions, shows the odds of it forming spontaneously are so small, it would be mathematically impossible. Yet every living organism is made up of countless complex parts, all dependent upon other complex parts for their existence.
       Take a single human cell. Within its membrane walls, several components need to be in place for the cell to split and reproduce itself: 1) The nucleus or control centre; 2) The nucleolus, where ribosomes are formed; 3) Ribosomes where proteins are created; 4) Chromosomes which contain DNA, the genetic masterplan; and 5) Mitochondrion, the production centre for energy-supplying molecules. 

       Quite an assembly. Yet, without just one of the above components, the cell would simple wither and die. Which poses a dilemma for evolutionists. How can a cell grow into a human or any other species if it cannot divide? How can it divide unless all the components are in place at the same time? How, in fact, could a cell form with other cells to create a human being or any other species? 

       Even if it were possible for a human male to evolve, what are the chances of a female counterpart evolving at the same time in order for them to reproduce? 

       Coming back to DNA, it's been described as a 'feat of engineering', packaged within the chromosomes so efficiently it beggars belief and containing all the instructions required to build a human body and keep it functioning for a lifetime. DNA's capacity for storing information exceeds anything produced in computer science; if human computer experts are unable to match this capacity, then how could mindless matter? (See The Origin of Life*) 

The missing missing link

       What about the fossil record, to which many refer as proof of evolution? Where are the host of intermediate relics which link one species to another? The fact is, despite many hoaxes, there is still no definite proof and some scientists believe the current evidence for Darwin’s theory is weak.

       In his book Darwin’s Enigma, Aerospace engineer Luther D. Sutherland wrote: “The scientific evidence shows that whenever any basically different type of life first appeared on Earth, all the way from single-celled protozoa to man, it was complete and its organs and structures were complete and fully functional. The inescapable deduction to be drawn from this fact is that there was some sort of pre-existing intelligence before life first appeared on Earth.”

       Donald E. Chittick, a physical chemist, says: “A direct look at the fossil record would lead one to conclude that animals reproduced after their kind as Genesis states. They did not change from one kind into another. The evidence now, as in Darwin’s day, is in agreement with the Genesis record of direct creation. Animals and plants continue to reproduce after their kind. In fact, the conflict between palaeontology (study of fossils) and Darwinism is so strong that some scientists are beginning to believe that the in-between forms will never be found.”



Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Picking up the pieces of a broken heart

       Can there be anyone over 16 who hasn’t suffered heartbreak at least once in their life? Other than Sheldon Cooper, that is. When faced with emotional distress, we might envy his total lack of commitment to anything which can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula.

       But facts speak for themselves. The vast majority of teenage relationships fail to result in marriage, while those that do have a high divorce rate. That adds up to an awful lot of break ups and the inevitable heartache that follows.

       You don’t even have to be seriously involved with a person to suffer such pangs; Alice in The Runaway Children is devastated when rejected by her rock star hero, Ricky Retch, while there’s many a teenage girl who goes into serious mope mode if Justin Bieber or other crush doesn’t ‘follow’ them back. And, though they may not show it, heartbreak happens to boys too. Love doesn’t always play fair.

       Matt*, the son of a friend of mine recently split up from a girl he was nuts about. No one really knows why. He was kind, courteous, considerate and respectful of his girlfriend’s deeply held religious beliefs. Sex before marriage was not on the table and he happily abided by strict rules of conduct - agreeing to chaperones, early nights and strict codes of behaviour with no illicit fumbling! Because he loved her. Wanted to marry her. Things progressed, their respective parents met and all seemed set for a winter wedding. Sadly, out of the blue, the young lady ended their courtship.      Nicely, of course, yet with very little explanation. Matt was devastated.

       We’ve all been there. A break up is possibly the most traumatic blow we could ever endure, crushing self-esteem along with any thoughts of happiness and leaving the victim in a hollow of despair. And no wonder. Romantic love is THE most powerful emotion we could ever experience. Shakespeare penned sonnets about it, singers have crooned about it, novelists have immortalised it and even Solomon, the second wisest man who ever lived, was completely bowled over by it. He too experienced unrequited love when a beautiful Shulammite on whom he’d set his heart rejected him for her one true love. But then, he did have 1000 wives & concubines to soothe his fractured ego!

       After a break up, you may feel as though you’ve been thrown into a dark, dank pit. But there IS a way out. Just start climbing – one step at a time:

Stage 1 – Denial, when you can’t believe our loved one doesn’t want you any more. For days, you’ll wait for the phone to ring, convinced he/she will change their mind and realise they just can’t live without you.

Stage 2 – Rage, which can turn love to hate. “The cheek of the guy/girl! How dare they reject ME!”

Stage 2 – Depression, in which despair takes over and self-esteem hits the floor, as you wonder if you’re worthless and unlovable.

Stage 4 – Resignation,giving you a realistic view of your circumstances. It may still hurt, yet you’re beginning to glimpse a time when things will be better.

Looking ahead

       As family and friends will tell you, wounds heal in time. Problem is, they hurt now. Healing a broken heart is like setting a broken leg – you know it’ll get better eventually but in the meantime, it’s simply agonising. How can you lessen the pain? Well, crying will certainly help, so don’t hold back. Tears don’t make you weak – even the strongest people shed them at times, so feel free to have a good, old blub to get some of that pain out of your system.

       You need to look after yourself too. Eat well and take exercise to recover all that emotional energy. Then channel it into interesting and enjoyable activities. Above all, don’t spend too much time alone. Seek the company of genuine people, family and friends, who really care about you. And if you have a faith, then pray, pour your heart out.

       Learn from the experience. Be analytical. Examining what went wrong will help you to avoid the same mistakes again. For instance, what reason did the other party give for breaking up with you? Make a note of it, even if you feel it was a unfair. Why do YOU think they rejected you? Is there anything you could have done to prevent the breakup? Has the relationship thrown up any flaws in yourself, or ways in which you could improve emotionally? How can you apply the experience to future relationships, and how would you conduct yourself differently next time?

       Make a list of comforting sayings to which you can keep referring. These could be from novels, films, plays, scriptures, poems - anything that hits a chord and helps to lift your spirits. Music can help too – but avoid moody, romantic music which could drag you down.

Remember too, in the middle of distress, it's hard to see an end to the misery. But it IS there. Time, patience and hope, along with these practical steps, will help you to reach it.


“Questions Young People Ask Answers that Work Volume 1” http://www.jw.org/en/publications/books/