The angels most people are familiar with today are the Christian angels that originated from the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic Church has devoted considerable effort to describing and developing an extensive hierarchy of angels. There are nine different types of angels within three groups or choirs — seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels and angels — with an official census of 496,000 angels.
In Christianity and Islam, angels function mainly as God’s messengers, but in modern times they function more as guardians. Indeed, the word “angel” has come to describe any benefactor. Angels are said to appear to people in times of need; other times they are sensed as comforting but unseen presences.
Despite centuries of Christian theological speculation about angels — from their number to their duties to how many can dance on the head of a pin — no one knows if they exist outside of stories and legends. Many people believe they do: Polls suggest that nearly 70 percent of Americans think angels exist.
In their book “Paranormal America,” sociologists Christopher Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph Baker note that “Angels pervade popular culture in books, television shows, and movies…. Believers exchange informal testimonials in newsletters and interpersonal conversations about the potential power of angels to influence the world, and more than half of Americans (53 percent) believe that they have personally been saved from harm by a guardian angel.”
About 7 in 10 U.S. adults say they believe in angels, according to a July 2023 poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. American’s belief in angels (69%) is about on par with their belief in heaven and the power of prayer.
But when you look at who the religious believers are who believe in and have felt the presence of angels it is evident that there are major differences. A 2007 Baylor Religion Survey found that 57 percent of Catholics, 81 percent of Black Protestants, 66 percent of Evangelical Protestants, 20 percent ‘no religion’ and only 10 percent of Jews reported having a personal experience with a guardian angel.
The Jewish percentage is very low because in the Hebrew Bible most of the earthly Angels are anonymous humans acting, often unknowingly, as God’s agents. The following narrative is a good example of most Jews beliefs about Angels.
One Thanksgiving day I was working at a general store in a remote area. I wasn’t pleased with having to work the holiday, but about halfway through my shift I saw someone who made me feel thankful that I would at least be able to go home to share Thanksgiving dinner with my family. The weather was awful, with an icy wind and near freezing rain. A young man was standing along the highway, hitchhiking with very little success. I thought about being alone and trying to hitch a ride in such miserable weather, and my heart went out to him. Wherever he was going, he was not going to be there in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Because I was alone, I couldn’t leave the store to help out but I didn’t want to simply be a bystander watching the man suffer. I called my parents. I knew they were busy preparing Thanksgiving dinner but I explained about the young man and asked them if they could do a Mitsvah. A short while later, I saw my parents’ car appear. It drew to a stop beside the man and there was a quick exchange of words. Something was handed to the man, and then the car took off. The look of surprise, disbelief, gratitude and amazement on this young man’s face was something I will never forget.
He came in to the store and asked if he could stay for a few minutes, because “an angel” had come out of nowhere and given him Thanksgiving dinner, then just drove off without telling him who she was or how she had known about him. He did not have money to buy food, so the hot meal was especially appreciated. He said what happened must be a miracle. There was no way to explain it. I didn’t say anything. I just smiled, offered coffee and juice to go with the meal, and thanked God for miracles.
Why did I thank God for a miracle when I was the one who had played God? My mom impressed me that day with her happiness to do a Mitsvah (good deed) even if it meant interrupting her hectic holiday preparations to package a dinner and bring it to the man. She was the angel. But the miracle was due to the young man. His heartfelt thanks and wonderful amazement made each of us feel good about our small, anonymous parts in helping him. He made our holiday, and not a Thanksgiving dinner goes by when his “miracle” isn’t remembered. In a way, that Mitsvah and his “miracle” became part of our family holiday tradition.
A miracle exists because the mind and heart of the believer experience both gratitude and wonder. My mom and I simply did a Mitsvah. He made it into a miracle. Now I know how good God feels when we appreciate things and call them blessings and miracles.
This young man was my angel. He helped create a miracle for me by making me part of his miracle. God is in the holy relationships we have with others. The Torah tells us to live holy lives like God (Leviticus 19). If we live according to the Mitsvot in Leviticus 19, and the rest of the Torah, our lives will be filled with both angels and miracles.