Do We Have Guardian Angels?
Let’s take a look at the age old argument for the existence of “guardian angels”. When we say ‘guardian angel’, we are really talking about the existence of angels that have been specifically assigned to believers in a one on one relationship. Some have historically made the case for this kind of ‘personal’ guardian angel based on these two passages:
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. And when she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. And they said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.
You’ll notice that the passage in Matthew does describe angels that seem to be guarding over children, but you’ll also probably notice that there is no description of a one on one relationship with a personal guardian angel. But the Acts passage is a bit more difficult. Rhoda’s friends seem to be reflecting an ancient Jewish belief that each of us is represented by a personal guardian angel. It is clear from history that many early Christians also held this belief:
The Shepherd of Hermas 5, 6, 2 (140-155 AD)
“God planted the vineyard,” (the shepherd) said: “that is, He created the people, and gave them over to His Son. And the Son appointed the angels to guard over them; and He Himself cleansed them of their sins, laboring much and undergoing much toil.”
Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies 6, 17, 157, 4 (217 AD)
“The thoughts of virtuous men are produced by divine inspiration. The soul is disposed in the way it is, and the will of God is conveyed to human souls, by special divine ministers who assist in such service. For regiments of angels are distributed over nations and cities; and perhaps some even are assigned to particular individuals.”
Origen, Homilies on Luke Hom. 12 (233-254 AD)
“To every man there are two attending angels, the one of justice and the other of wickedness. If there be good thoughts in our heart, and if righteousness be welling up in our soul, it can scarcely be doubted that an angel of the Lord is speaking to us. If, however, the thoughts of our heart be turned to evil, an angel of the Devil is speaking to us.”
St. Hilary of Poitiers, Commentary on the Psalm 129 (130) 7 (365 AD)
“We recall that there are many spiritual powers, to whom the name angels is given, or presidents of churches. There are, according to John, angels of the Churches in Asia. And there were, as Moses bears witness, when the sons of Adam were separated, bounds appointed for the peoples according to the number of the angels. And, as the Lord teaches, there are for little children, angels who see God daily. There are, as Raphael told Tobias, angels assisting before the majesty of God, carrying to God the prayers of suppliants. Mention is made of all this, because you might wish to understand these angels as the eyes, or the ears, or the hands, or the feet of God … It is not the nature of God, but the weakness of men, which requires their service. For they are sent for the sake of those who will inherit salvation. God is not unaware of anything that we do; but in our weakness we are impoverished for a minister of spiritual intercession in the matter of beseeching and propitiating.”
St. Basil the Great, Against Eunomius 3, 1(364 AD)
“All the angels, having but one appellation, have likewise among themselves the same nature, even though some of them are set over nations, while others of them are guardians to each one of the faithful.”
Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566 AD) Pt. IV, Ch. IX:
By God’s providence Angels have been entrusted with the office of guarding the human race and of accompanying every human being in order to preserve him from serious dangers … our heavenly Father has placed over each of us an Angel under whose protection and vigilance we may be enabled to escape the snares secretly prepared by our enemy, repel the dreadful attacks he makes on us, and under his guiding hand keep to the right road, and thus be secure against false steps which the wiles of the evil one might cause us to make in order to draw us aside from the path that leads to heaven. (Sacred Scripture shows) the benefits bestowed by God on man through the ministry and intervention of Angels, whom He deputes not only on particular and private occasions, but also appoints to take care of us from our very births. He furthermore appoints them to watch over the salvation of each one of the human race.
This belief in Guardian Angels is still in place in the Catholic Church today:
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992 AD) No. 336
From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.
We know that angels reflect the love of God, and in doing so they surround and protect us. We have already seen this in the scripture. But the real question here is: “Does each of us have a personal Guardian Angel?” If we read Matthew 18:10 carefully, it seems that these angels are not in an active duty, but instead “always see the face of” the Father in heaven. It sure sounds like it is GOD who is the true protector of the saints, as He simply employs angels occasionally to act on His Will. Nowhere in scripture does it say that individual angels are assigned to individual believers. We can take comfort in knowing that legions of angels are caring for us and preparing the path home, but the assumption that each of us has a personal angel is not dictated by the scripture.
So, Should We Worship Them?
There is a danger in focusing on ‘guardian angels”. If we are not careful, we just may find ourselves looking to angels for the protection that only God offers. When we do this, we are beginning to offer angels the worship and trust that belongs to God. Many people in history have found themselves worshiping angels as though they were God. Justin Martyr (2nd century) believed that Christians would do well to worship angels. Thomas Aquinas also seemed to be quite fascinated by angels, and Dionysius the Areopagate (5th or 6th century) said that only angels had access to God (based on his understanding of Galatians 3:19).
But it’s important to remember that angels are only mentioned in the Bible incidental to some other topic. They are never the focus in and of themselves. They only exist to love God and as a result, love US. So, for the following reasons, they are NOT to be our focus of worship:
They Are Only Created Beings Like Us
Remember that angelic beings are just another creation of God:
Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created.
This is important, because the Bible warns us about worshiping created things:
Romans 1:18-19, 24-25
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them… Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Jesus is Superior to the Angels (they, like us, are designed to worship HIM):
In addition to this, it is clear from the scripture that Jesus is far Superior to any angel. He, therefore is more worthy of our worship:
For to which of the angels did He ever say, “Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee”? And again, “I will be a Father to Him and He shall be a Son to Me”? And when He again brings the first-born into the world, He says, “And let all the angels of God worship Him.”
We Are Commanded NOT to Worship Them:
And finally, it is important to remember that we have been specifically warned about worshiping angels:
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels…
Being Careful About the Gray Areas
As we examine the reality regarding ‘guardian angels’, it’s important for us to remember a simple Biblical principal: we should not get caught up in the gray areas. Scripture is clear about what God wants us to be clear about. It’s that simple. If it’s important to God, He made sure that it was clear for us in the Bible. Conversely, scripture is unclear about those areas of truth that are NOT essential to our knowledge of the nature of God and the truth of our salvation. Sometimes we get in trouble when we begin to focus on gray non-essentials as though they were black and white essentials. The issue of ‘guardian angles’ is definitely a gray non-essential, while the issue of who it is that we are to worship is clearly an essential! We have very little Biblical support for the idea of ‘guardian angels’ in the first place, while we do have definitive commandments that tell us that we should not be worshiping created things (and that we should not be worshiping angels in particular).
For this reason, it’s probably a good idea for us to devote our time and energy to the black and white areas, and assign the gray areas to our curiosity and nothing more. We know one thing for sure. God is the creator of all angels. He is superior to angels in knowledge, wisdom and power. He alone can protect us and he alone is capable of the miraculous. When we find ourselves wanting to thank an angel for our protection, the wisest thing might be for us to thank the God who provided the angel in the first place.