Joel J. Miller, Lifted by Angels: The Presence and Power of our Heavenly Guides and Guardians (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012).
When I was 13, I read This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti. The story is about the spiritual warfare that takes place between angels and demons in a small town. I was riveted. Only later did I realize how Manichean the whole thing was. In college, I questioned the very existence of angels. I asked myself, “Why does God need them?” If my flirtations with partial unbelief shock you, I just want to remind you: Frank Peretti! According to Joel Miller, the way angels have been packaged and marketed and, consequently, misrepresented in popular media is one reason people abandon belief in them (I do feel obliged to note the irony of the author’s statement juxtaposed against other products from his publisher.
That is why, when Joel handed me his book, I will admit to being a little reluctant to read it. I do not
always often usually agree with Joel on some important issues, but I don’t think he is dumb, and I often like his blog posts. His book also came recommended by his Eminence, Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, whom I highly respect. So I dove in.
Miller opens his book by discussing The City of God, noting how St. Augustine more or less took it for granted that, both in this life and the next, we fellowship with unseen powers. Or, as Miller wrote several chapters later, “[I]n the city of God, worship is the work of the inhabitants, both visible and invisible.” I hesitate to compare Miller’s book to the City of God for reasons that should be obvious to anyone who has ever read anything Augustine ever wrote, but Fortune favors the bold (of course, so do bankruptcy and early death).
In terms of content, there is no comparison, but there is a similarity of structure and intent. Like Augustine’s massive tome, Miller’s much shorter book offers the reader a kind of history of the unseen – a spiritual current running just below the surface of the obvious. Chapter one introduces the purpose of the book, and the remaining six look at the history of salvation through the eyes of the angels. Instead of Adam and Eve, Miller begins with the Fall of Lucifer, discusses the angels’ governance of the cosmos, their role in the ministry of Jesus, the companionship with their human charges, worship with us, and guides to the life beyond.
Readers looking for a speculative angelology in the spirit of Bulgakov’s Jacob’s Ladder will be disappointed in Miller’s book. The strength of this book is its simplicity and plainness. It is full of quotations from scripture and the church fathers and mothers, but rather than piling proof texts atop each other, Miller strings them together into a coherent narrative, held together by a red thread which reads: we are never, ever alone.