One of my favorite movies of all time is Frank Capra’s 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. Though I’ve watched parts of it dozens of times, I could sit down today, enjoy it again, and yes, need a Kleenex for the tears that would undoubtedly roll down my cheeks when George Bailey kisses that stairwell knob, rediscovers Zuzu’s petals, and greets all his friends who bring money to help repay his $8000 “debt” to Potter.
Unfortunately, some people have gotten some of their theology from the movie, and specifically from Clarence Odbody, George Bailey’s guardian angel. He is presented in the film as an Angel Second Class who, if he is able to save George’s life and convince him of the good he’s done for others, he just might earn his wings after 200 years of being unsuccessful. At the end of the movie, with the Bailey family and friends all singing around the Christmas tree, a bell sounds supposedly indicating that Clarence had indeed earned his wings.
It’s a Wonderful Life may be a wonderfully heart-warming movie, but it’s definitely not the source for developing our angelology! Why do I say that? Because of what I’ve read and heard lately by loving, well-meaning people with regard to the death and heavenly promotion of Lydia Byrd last Wednesday. You can read more that her story here and here and her funeral service here. And her mom’s blog can be read here.
Lydia, a few months short of her eighth birthday, did not become an angel when she went to Heaven. Nowhere in the Bible is this even suggested. Angels are angels. People are people. True angels do not earn their wings; they’re created with them to begin with and some have up to six wings (Isa. 6.2).
Yes, lovely Lydia had angelic beauty, but again, she did not become an angel when she went to Heaven. She’s still Lydia. Lydia without pain and suffering. Lydia without anymore tumors. But when her parents one day see her again in glory, she will not have angelic wings or a halo; she will be Lydia.
Do we have any similarities with angels? Yes…
Angels are “persons” in that they have personality and names (though Michael and Gabriel are the only ones we know), they worship God (Heb. 1.6), they rejoice (Rev. 5.11-12), they communicate (Rev. 19.9-10), etc.
God’s angels are “elect” (1 Tim. 5.21) as are Christians (2 Tim. 2.10), but only believers are elect with regard to redemption. In fact, salvation history is something that angels find intriguing and want to explore further (1 Pet. 1.12).
Angels even take on human likeness at times and give us an opportunity to show hospitality toward them without being aware of it (see Heb.13.2)! But, that does not mean that we ever become one of them.
Misunderstanding of a few verses has probably contributed to this mistaken notion that people, especially children, become angels after death. For example, Matthew 20.30 states that “in the resurrection [people] neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Notice it doesn’t say that people become angels, but that they are like them in that believers in their glorified bodies living in the eternal heaven will no longer marry. Angels have never married. Believers in heaven will no longer have spouses either. There is a similarity there, but not equality.
When believers get to heaven they will not mistake some angel for their loved ones. They will see and recognize angels as angels and their saved friends and family as part of redeemed humanity. Let the Bible be your source of authority, not Clarence Odbody.