The popularity of the digital streaming world of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon reveals the human craving for a captivating drama to delve into in an addictive fashion for hours on end.
If you ever watched a riveting movie, TV series, or been hooked on a book, you’ll notice that what grabs your attention is an intense interest in the plot of the story. Once the audience grasps the plot and holds an attentive fascination towards the storyline, they become gripped into the story as if they were a part of it.
When it comes to the Biblical story, such a penetrating attraction to the plot might be hard to uncover. The storyline of salvation history is typically presented with such concepts as “good versus evil” or a story where “love conquers all.” While these views are true, rather than just vaguely describe the Biblical story with cliche phrases, if we can extract the dramatic plot line in a concrete sense, our interest in this great narrative will naturally ensue – and we’ll realize that we are a part of an epic saga known as “salvation history.”
In most captivating stories we’ll consume throughout our life, we stand as mere pedestrians looking into the story. However, in the Biblical story, we are all key characters placed dramatically at the center. For this is a story about two entities battling for the right to your soul. In this battle of souls, every soul on earth can be instrumental in pointing others to the rightful place their soul belongs. We act as moving pieces either guiding a soul to a heavenly reality or slowly pointing one to a hellish fall. But, even in the human sphere we too are being moved one way or the other by higher powers.
In the Mass, Catholics stand up and profess the creed. In this profession, we affirm that God is “maker of all things visible and invisible.” This “invisible world” represents a reality we can’t see yet affirm house powerful spirits known as angels. The creed displays that there is a corresponding reality of the visible (i.e., the physical) and the invisible (i.e., the spiritual) that vividly play off one another. And much like the visible world has corruption in it, so too the invisible realm experiences depravity in it. Just as there are good and bad human beings, there exist good and bad angels The crucial point to the story of salvation is that the latter (angels in the invisible world) works to affect the former (humans in the visible).
This seemingly small tidbit within the creed, reveals a dramatic point. A recent article by theologian Charles Fraune may just capture the essence of the Biblical plot in which his title says it all. The article is titled, “The Saints Will Replace The Fallen Angels in Heaven.”
Here, we come to the tangible plot line within the Biblical story. While the focal point of the story is to become a saint by giving everything to God. And that once, we become a saint, our soul is in its perfected state in heaven with God, there is more going on behind the scenes of salvation history. Fraune’s article is where the plot line gets intriguing. As a saint in heaven, we will be replacing the spot previously vacant from the fallen angels. Given that these fallen angels (i.e., demons) know this, they will stop at next to nothing to prevent us from taking their formerly reserved seat in heaven (cf. Luke 20:36, Summa, Prima, Q108, a8, CCC 1053).
As fallen angels, the demons suffer from an intense volume of pride. To know that their original spot in heaven will be taken up by lowly humans drives these fallen angelic beings berserk. They become akin to a belligerent sore loser that wants wreak havoc on God’s very system that led to their defeated demise.
In order to prevent this humiliation, the demons will attempt to subtly trick us to avoid the path to heaven, while consequently slowly marching us straight toward their dark abyss in hell – all the while making us blind to this reality. Therefore, we are caught in this dramatic tug-of-war of our souls in which we must choose our end goal to be in heaven with God replacing the fallen angels or live side-by-side with these fallen angels in their perverse den of horrors.
The story starts and unfolds with the creation of the angels. Interestingly, St. Augustine teaches that the angels were created in the first “day” as articulated in the Genesis account. When God created the light, this “light” was, in fact, the creation of the angelic beings in which God implanted in them many endowments. The most primary being their closeness to God’s divine nature. God created the angels as pure spirits with a keen intellect and strong free will. By their nature, angels are vastly superior to all other creatures, including humans.
When we hear the word “angels” it often invokes the image of humans with wings sitting on a cloud playing a harp. However, such a benign characterization remains a farce. Angels don’t have a physical nature to them – they are pure spirits. Because we live in a physical world, we have a hard time grasping the concept of a non-physical reality such as a spirit. However, the governing force within our day comes across as a spirit in our thoughts. Human thoughts represent this non-physical reality known as spirits. As such, angels can personify a message in our thoughts. That is when we encounter various, thoughts, ideas, and teachings we are tapping into this spiritual realm of the angels.
These angels were created in a hierarchy structure in which their level of intellect corresponds to their proximity to God. The governing theme in God’s hierarchy is that those on the top continuously serve those on the bottom. The hierarchy provides us with a sense of order, progress, and ascent in our understanding of how God’s infinite knowledge establishes and maintains the order and beauty of creation through principles that we can grasp and through the ministry and oversight of his faithful servants – the angels.
There are nine ranks or choirs of angels that form in three layers. The first layers are the closest to God, thus they are portrayed as having so much light that they burn. These include: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones. Those in the second layer are: Dominations, Virtues, Powers (also translated as authorities). And those at the bottom layer of the angelic choir are: Principalities, Archangels, Angels.
Salvation story takes a tense turn when within this sacred choir of angels a high-ranking cherub named Lucifer rejected God through his free choice. As Augustine notes, this fall of Lucifer was poetically suggested in the creation story when God separated the light from the dark. Here, Augustine alludes that in this parting of light and dark we see the division of the good angels (light) and the fallen angels (dark). Once Lucifer chose to revolt against God, he convinced about a third of the angels to join him in his rebellion of God (Revelation 12:4). A dramatic battle ensued in heaven between those loyal to God and those devoted to Lucifer. Saint Michael the Archangel led the charge in this clash and cast Lucifer and his minions out of God’s domain in heaven into a vicious realm of sin known as hell (Revelation 12:7-9, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6).
In his fall, Lucifer lost the right to his name, and thus forever became called “the Devil” and “Satan.” The Greek word for “devil” means to cast a part or scatter whereas the word “Satan” connotes accuser, tempter, and adversary of God.
The reason for this “fall” was due to their pride in that these fallen angels refused their job to serve those of lower rank all the while wanting to become their own gods in which they would constantly be served by creatures in the lower rank. This concept of vehemently refusing to serve was captured by John Milton’s phrase, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
Prominent exorcist, Father Amorth further explained this fall, “A great number of the angels fell because they rebelled against God. We recall that before admitting the angels to paradise, God subjected them to a trial of obedience and humility, of which we know the nature but not the specifics. The sin of the fallen angels was one of pride and disobedience. Satan, the most beautiful of all the angels, being aware of his extreme intelligence, rebelled at the idea of being subjected to someone. He forgot that he was a creature made by God. Many angels followed him in his folly.”
The Catechism as well teaches that “the fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God”(Genesis 3:5; CCC 392).
However, a crucial point in the narrative of this story is that Satan’s war still continued after his banishment from heaven. Knowing that a second assault on heaven would be futile, Satan chose to attack God indirectly through his most beloved of creations – human beings. In other words, this crushing defeat in heaven coupled with the fact that knowing humans on earth would take his spot in heaven caused a rage within Satan which he unleashed with fury on God’s human creatures. Here, we become caught up in what St. Paul described as “spiritual warfare.”
For this reason, God became incarnated as a man, Jesus Christ, to defeat the power and dominion of Satan over the humans (see 1 John 3:8). Therefore, all people who believe in Jesus, follow His Sacraments, His Church, and fight against Satan will not be damned to hell but will be with God in heaven forever.
However, even as believers we too can fall into sin and choose to reject God. Given our free choice to God’s offer, the stakes in this drama are incredibly urgent. Faced with this choice, Saint Peter warns us, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). In other words, the devil consistently lurks in the background attempting to manipulate our thoughts from being committed to God, to perversely being opposed to God. His game plan is hatched through promoting his horrid ideas subtly through human agents using vague, emotionally charged language so we can’t recognize it. For example, the systematic killing of innocent babies is couched under the banner of “reproductive rights” so one can’t identify its demonic roots. Moreover, the demons mantra of dissension, calumny, rage, anarchy, lies, and violence is manifested and exemplified in those who have been rampantly rioting in our streets the last few months.
Besides going after the society at large, Satan keenly focuses his demons to go after each individual. He primarily works through temptation. He can’t make you sin, you sin on your own accord, but he plays a prominent role in the lead up to that sin – by constantly tempting us. He particularly preys on those who have experienced emotional trauma in their life. Like a predator that goes after his wounded prey, Satan zeroes in on the weak and emotionally vulnerable. He is goal is simple – to get us off God’s path. As exorcists comment, “Satan uses material things to distract us from God. He tempts us to adore the material, the sensual, and the powerful rather than to adore God. He lures us into a sense of false security of thinking we can build our own little kingdom here and now without any need of God.”
Fr. Amorth interprets St. Peter’s passage as the devil wandering around each one of us, searching where to trip us up. As Amorth notes, “The devil looks in each person precisely for his weak point and ‘works’ on it, creating his next sinful occasion.” Demons will do anything to get you to sin. If Satan tempted our Lord in the desert, he surely will tempt us. He knows how we are weak and when we are vulnerable. However, if we, as St. Paul declares, “put on the armor of God” we will be “able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil” (see Ephesians 6: 10-18).
Given the importance of the dramatic plot, St. James announces to us, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind” (James 4:7-8).
Fr. Amorth gives us clear implications of St. James’ pronouncement. “The demon keeps his distance from the one who nurtures his faith, who frequents the sacraments, and who wishes to live devoutly. Why? Simply put, the devil hates God and is in terror of Him and anything that even has the odor of sanctity.”
However, if one refuses to be drenched in the faith and rather parallels the demons lust for rebellion and unrepentant sin, Jesus warns that his demise will be the same as those fallen angels: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Therefore, this story that is centered on a battle of your soul, presents two entities that stand in stark contrast clashing over your thoughts, your inner being. The drama in this saga reveals a paradox that we, who are central characters in the plot, don’t realize that we are central characters in the plot. Therefore, we’ll go seek out other dramas to make our lives seem compelling.
Exorcists say that demons have a motto – “Anything but God.” They’ll attempt to divert you from your knowledge of the plot and your mission to be a saint, by bombarding you with countless trivial distractions within the culture. They don’t care what it is – be it technology, music, sports, entertainment, as long as drives you away from God, they’ll have accomplished a small victory. Yes, one will inevitably become distracted in this cacophony of noise within the pop culture. Indeed, the devil attempted to divert Jesus from his mission received from the Father (see John 8:44, Matthew 4: 1-11). Whenever we encounter a “sidebar” from our faith, even if the interruption seems minor, it likely is a ploy of the demonic. Indeed, when Peter unknowingly attempted to impede Jesus from his mission, Jesus’ reaction was stark in declaring to Peter, “Get behind me Satan” (Matthew 16:23).
The most frequent weak points in man are, from time to time, always the same: pride, envy, greed, sloth, and lust. Because the devil fell of pride (Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:17, Proverbs 16:18) and envy (Wisdom 2:24) he continuously wants you to take the bait of pride and envy as well as every other sins at his disposal. As one exorcist candidly quipped, “Don’t feed the demons.” Those who embrace the opposite of the demonic ideas stand in position of the good angels such as clinging to the opposite of pride; humility. As St. Augustine wrote, “It was pride that changed the angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”
Here, we come back to the gripping part of the story. While you’re constantly being “played” by the demons, God has put a force-field around you in the Sacraments, prayer, and the heavenly angels. Yes, prayer and Sacraments are tangible instruments that God provides us through his earthly Church, but let us also not lose “sight” of those in the invisible realm that protect us – the angels. The main thrust of the angels’ mission is to help prevent the demons from snatching your soul away from your eternal destination in which the demons previously vacated. After all, it was the Archangels that hurled the demons out of heaven. But, their mission hasn’t changed. They work to similarly fling the demons out of your world – assuming you let them.
In the Book of Daniel and the Book of Enoch, angelic beings are referred to as “watchers” (Daniel 4:17, 23).
God sent one of these watchers to help Eliijah with food and drink when he was in despair and in need (1 Kings 19). As watchers, the heavenly angels act as guides pointing us towards our end goal as saints in heaven. We can identify these “guides” commonly as guardian angels (CCC 336). The angels’ job is two-fold in that when they point us towards God, they are simultaneously steering us away from the demons who want to drag us down.
The plot has been revealed. We stand as central figures with an eternal destination in one place or another. Angelic beings are battling for our thoughts, for our choice in this ultimate decision on who we are, who we want to serve, and where our final destination lies. Every day this dramatic reality is played out. Ultimately, God’s beings win out in a route. Pick God, His Church, His Saint, and His Angels. Once you commit to this sacred team, eventually the heavenly realm will be your home.
Now this is a compelling story that should grab our attention.